A COURAGEOUS PASlt>R'S
13 YEARS OF COMMUNIST
TORTURE AND IMPRISONMENT—
AND HIS FIGHT TO KEEP FAITH - AUVE IN
PRISONS AND IN HIS COMMUNIST HOMELAND.
An Epic of Christian Courage
and Heroism in Our Day
TORTURED FOR HIS FAITH
Copyright © 1970, 1975, 1978 by Haralan Popov
Thirteenth printing (revised edition) July 1975
Nineteenth printing 1979
ISBN 310 31262
All rights reserved
No portion of this book may be reproduced
in any form without the written permission
of the publishers, except for brief excerpts
used in magazine reviews.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 77-102834
Printed in the Republic of South Africa
There were two things that sustained me during thirteen
years and two months in Communist prisons. First, there was
the knowledge that my life was truly in God's hands and not
the hands of my Communist jailers. Second, I was sustained
by the hope that I might live and someday give my testimony
to the world and tell what I witnessed.
My purpose in this book is not to show man's depravity;
that depravity tells its own story and I experienced it day and
night for more than thirteen endless years. No, my purpose is
to show God's overwhelming love. If anything should stand
out in this book, let it be the overwhelming truth of God's
love in the midst of man's bestiality.
This book is not only my story. As you read, it is
important to keep this in mind. And it is most important for
the reader to keep in mind that more than sixty years after
the Bolshevik Revolution, the repression, the persecution
of the Suffering Church, has not abated. This book centers in
my beloved Bulgaria. Endless chapters of it are being written
still in that small country; volumes more are being written
elsewhere in the expansive Soviet bloc and in Communist
China. Although this book tells what happened in Bulgaria to
me and my fellow Christians, don't for a moment consider its
confines to be so small. If you do, you will miss the point.
This is a history, in a way, of all the Persecuted Church
in Bulgaria, because I was not alone in prison. Scores and
hundreds — even thousands — have suffered similar and
The situation in Bulgaria before my arrest must be
understood as it was to get a grasp of what the Communists
had set out to do. It was, and always is, a case of divide and
conquer. And for Protestants in Bulgaria, the idea of unity,
even though there was diversity, was a matter of paramount
importance. The country historically is not Protestant at all;
Greek Orthodox Christianity was the state religion. Protes-
tants in effect, even though they were allowed freedom to
propagate, still were regarded as religious interlopers.
We Protestants, fired with evangelical zeal, considered
the Greek Orthodox faith to be presenting the Gospel in a
deficient manner. We could not see lives changed; we could
not see vitality in the everyday life; we viewed the religion,
as practiced, more a matter of form and culture than of living
reality of the love of our Savior. We therefore considered
Greek Orthodox Bulgaria a mission field, ripe unto harvest
— not for Protestantism, but for the living Christ.
That is why we had the United Evangelical Churches in
Bulgaria, led by the Supreme Council of the United Church
of Bulgaria, a body of church leaders elected every four
years — an idea which came to fruition in Bulgaria, and an
idea unique to my country. The four Protestant denomina-
tions of Bulgaria — Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, and
Pentecostal — could sit as aliens in one church under the
umbrella of the United Church of Bulgaria. This was neces-
sary because, to the Greek Orthodox mind, the division and
differences which existed earlier cut hard against our mis-
sionary efforts among them. In their mind, the Church can be
only one. The divisions so evident before the formation
of the United Evangelical Church only added to our diffi-
No, this is not my story alone. We were all arrested — all
the members of the Supreme Council of the United Evangeli-
cal Churches, including the religious representative, a liaison
pastor before the government and the churches.
In June of 1948, all the members of the Supreme Coun-
cil including the chief religious representative were called to
the office of the Minister of Religious Affairs. Our moment of
truth had come, and within days there would be no mistak-
ing. "Gentlemen, today in the National Peoples' Republic of
Bulgaria, there are no two ways about it but only one: You
are either for the Soviet Union or you are for the United
States. " He then made it very clear what it means to be with
the Communist party and to be loyal to its aims.
Then came the crunch. He wanted each of us, in each of
the churches, to make a statement from the pulpits —
declaring our loyalty to the Bulgarian Communist party, the
Bulgarian government, and the objectives of the Communist
world — and to accuse the United States as imperialists and of
interfering in the affairs of Bulgaria.
We considered this a very brutal interference into the
lives of the churches. We told the minister of religious affairs
in clear terms that we as churchmen in our churches are not a
political people. After we discussed the proposition, we told
him that rather than do this we would close our churches.
"We cannot do this,'* we insisted.
Then we made a written statement and gave it to the
minister. He read it and became absolutely livid and began to
swear with every epithet and imprecation he could bring to
mind. He threatened to arrest us immediately. A tense alter-
cation ensued — provocative enough, given the state of the
man's mind, to have had us put in prison on the spot.
"Mr. Minister/' one of our spokesmen said, "we did
not come here to have you swear at us and to threaten us. We
are men of God and we must serve God as our consciences
dictate. Why, if we must have this freedom, do you make
such an impossible demand on us? We cannot go along with
your request. We would be forced to close our churches
before we would do that."
4 'Don't talk to me like that . I can take that telephone and
have you arrested right this minute!"
He didn't pick up the telephone and make good his
threats. Instead, he gave us a week to think it over. But our
minds were set, and the week's Communist grace was only a
matter of form. We returned and repeated our stand. Our
character and conviction as Christians could not permit any
This, of course, in the situation of the day, was counted
as betrayal of Bulgaria — not only betrayal, but as we soon
were to find out, collaboration with the United States. There
was no way out for us but to be loyal to the Christ within us.
And this we were determined to do. The Communists were
just as determined to do us and our churches in. It was not
long after our arrest that the United Churches were divided by
the Communists and hand-picked pastors were put in charge
of each of the four denominations — with the Minister of
Religious Affairs, a member of the Secret Police — as the real
That, then, is the setting. That is how we, and many like
us, went to prison. That is why many more in the Suffering
Church still go to prison.
This book, I repeat, is not to show man's depravity, but
God's overwhelming love in the midst of man's depravity. In
prison I learned the lesson of love as never before. Though I
had preached of God's love from many pulpits, I came to see
His love in a new way in the black despair of subterranean
cells and in the faces of countless fellow -prisoners. Stripped
of all material things and distractions, I found a greater
reality in God than I had ever known before. The truth shines
clearest where the circumstances are darkest.
Kidnapped From My Home 9
The Endless Nights Begin 10
" Welcome to the White House, Prisoner Popov'* 13
A "Hard-Core" Atheist Finds Christ 14
The Hand of God on a Man 18
Bulgaria Becomes "Little Russia" 19
Better Spies Than Christian Martyrs 20
The Cell Walls Speak 21
The "Death Diet" 26
The Punishment CeD 27
The Fourth Day at the Wall 30
The Tenth Day 31
The Fourteenth Day. 32
Preaching the Gospel to the Secret Police 37
Leading Mitko to Christ...^ 40
The Showdown Comes 43
The Wooden Shoe Song 48
Broken, But Not Bowed 50
The Tragic Suffering of Our Families 57
"You're a Dead Man, Haralan Popov"... 59
Classified As Unreformed.. 63
Night Sounds 66
A Gift From God 70
Persin — An Island of Horror 72
Secret Message in a Photo 77
The Day Before Christmas.. 80
Christmases in Prison 83
Slave Labor at Persin 85
Into the Death Chamber. 87
Nine Months in the Pit 90
The Incident of the Bean 91
My Work As a Prison Pastor 95
Memorizing 47 Chapters 99
Preaching By Prison Telegraph 99
I Lose My New Testament 105
Bible Classes in the Prison Yard 106
The Fruits of Imprisonment 112
Amazing Old "Babba" Maria 118
Church Spies Spying on Spies 121
Underground With God 123
Birthday Evangelism 125
The Bible Scavenger 127
Underground "Bible Factory" 129
My Urgent Mission 132
A Message From the Underground Church 137
Still Calling From Macedonia 140
Another Cry Is Heard 144
Kidnapped From My Home
At 4 in the morning on July 24, 1948, my doorbell
suddenly started ringing insistently over and over. Sleepily I
arose, put on my robe and went to the door. There stood three
strangers, two of whom were in ordinary clothes and the
other in a uniform. "We have come to search your house,"
the leader in civilian clothes said and pushed his way past me
into the sleeping house. My wife Ruth heard the noise and
joined me in the living room where we watched with bewil-
derment as the three men searched the entire house. As they
were searching I thought, If s finally come. The time is here
They searched everywhere — through books, beds,
bookshelves, storage chests, drawers — for three hours.
They didn't miss anything! As the sun came up around 7 a.m.
they turned to me and ordered me to come along with them.
I must come along but it was only for "a little questioning, ' '
Little did I know that this "little questioning'' would
last for thirteen endless years of torture and imprisonment.
As they were shoving me out the door half-dressed, Rhoda,
my little daughter, awoke and came running into the living
room. With a child's quick perception, she realized her father
was being taken away. She burst into tears and began crying
her little heart out — her body trembling and shaking from
"They're taking daddy. They're taking daddy!" she
cried over and over.
The scene was just too much for me, and tears came into
my eyes as I hugged Rhoda. Over and over I assured her I
would be right back, though deep inside I knew this was the
blow I had been expecting. But Rhoda' s heart was broken in
spite of all my assurances. She couldn't be consoled. I think
that somehow — in a child's own way — she knew she
might never see her father again. With tears quietly brim-
ming in my eyes I kissed Ruth and Rhoda good-by, knowing
that I might never see them again.
Through all this my little son Paul slept and I never had a
chance to say good-by to him. Ruth told me later she fell on
her knees after we left and tearfully prayed that I would be
returned before nightfall. After two or three hours she was
visited by Pastor ManolofTs wife who told her that her
husband had also been taken away.
Walking to the police station between the three men
around 7 a.m., I held my head high. As the four-man
' 'parade' * walked down the street, I could feel the eyes of my
friends, neighbors and church members on me. I knew that
since my conversion I had served only God and I was in
God's hands. From the depths of my heart I cried out to God,
asking for His grace to endure whatever was before me.
At the police station I was searched from head to toe and
then locked in a cell. Inside I found another man, an Arme-
nian. The cell was filthy and littered with paper and rubbish.
In one corner stood an old cracked clay pot which served as
our * 'toilet." It was overflowing and the stench from it was
terrible. I paced back and forth from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. , deeply
concerned about Ruth, Rhoda and Paul.
The Endless Nights Begin
At eight o'clock that evening, my cell door opened and a
young man commanded me to accompany him. He took me
down to the second floor to a beautifully furnished office
where he introduced me to another young man. I was told he
was to be addressed as "Mr. Inspector." I stood in front of
"Mr. Inspector," and he fired his first question at me.
"Do you know the difference between the militia and
I thought the question was a joke, and said, "No, I
don't. I have never been interested in such police matters."
My reply irritated him and he shouted, "Don't play games
with me, Prisoner Popov. Stand facing that wall and don't
This sounds like a light punishment, but I can assure you
it is most tiring and painful to the whole body, especially to
the small of the back.
* *Mr. Inspector' ' continued to ask me the same question
from 8 p.m. to midnight as I stood stiffly. Every 5 or 10
minutes the question was repeated: "Do you know the differ-
ence between the militia and the police?'' I tried to explain I
didn't know. When I saw that I was getting nowhere I
stopped answering, He screamed, "We'll teach you a lesson!
Hold your arms straight up and don't move a muscle!"
Finally, around midnight, "Mr. Inspector" said, k I
will tell you the difference between the militia and the police.
Police are employed to guard the interests of the rich
capitalists and the militia guards the interest of the honest
working people." I was then allowed to lower my arms.
It was a hard "lesson" in communist semantics I had
My arms felt as heavy as logs. I was then asked another
question. "State just why you are here." I answered that
three men had come to my home that morning and brought
me there. I had been in a cell all day and no one had told me
anything. "No," he replied, "you know why you are here."
1 * But I don ' t know for sure , " I answered , though I had a
very good idea.
After he had repeated the question for an hour, the
"inspector" said, "I am going now. Stand there until morn-
ing. I'll return for your answer tomorrow morning and we'll
see if you're any smarter by then."
He left me in the care of the young man named Jordan
who had brought me from my cell. Jordan spent the night
sitting in a chair behind me while I stood facing the wall.
Little did I know I was not only facing one night "at the
wall," but would later be forced to stand for two weeks!
The last hours of the night between 3 and 7a.m. were
the most difficult. After standing with my face to the wall all
night without a wink of sleep, these hours seemed as long as
eternity. At last dawn came and Jordan took me back to the
ceil. The Armenian wanted to give me something to eat but I
preferred to stretch out on the board bunk and rest. I was so
tired I wanted only to sleep, but the swarming bedbugs and
assorted other crawling things kept me awake. Before I knew
it my body was covered with the creatures and it was impos-
sible to sleep. I had to get up and pace back and forth. Later I
heard rumor the cells were purposely infested with bedbugs,
lice and vermin to make it worse for the prisoner. I never
found out if this was true, but I suspect it was. There were
armies of them.
It was now Sunday, July 25, and for the first time in
many years I did not spend Sunday in a church. In my cell I
knelt and my thoughts went out to my brothers and sisters in
Christ who would be at worship at this moment. I prayed for
my children and for my wife, whom I had left without money
or food. How I would have loved to be with them! I asked the
Lord to take care of them in the future whatever it held. I
knew that the Great Persecution had begun for the sake of
Christ. All down through Christian history this had happened
again and again, and I prayed from deep within that God
would give me strength to measure up to the disciples and
martyrs of the Early Church. I surely couldn't do it on my
own. A cricket sang from somewhere amongst the rotten
floorboards of the cell block and my downtrodden soul was
lifted up and my faith in God renewed.
The all-night interrogations continued for a week. The
pattern was always the same. As soon as it was dark I was
taken downstairs and made to stand exactly eight inches from
the wall. There, from 7 p.m. until about 8 the next morning I
was questioned and not permitted to close my eyes. If my
eyes nodded, Jordan would leap up shouting, "Stop! Stop!
That's not allowed." In the daytime I fought the swarming
bedbugs so I had no chance to rest then either. No one was
given any food in the prison, but my wife managed to find out
where I was and sent food from home. I wanted desperately
to see my family, to know how they were, but was not
allowed to do so.
On Saturday night, no one came to take me downstairs.
But around midnight I heard a key in the lock and an unfamil-
iar voice shouted, "Popov, getouthere! You're being trans-
I said good-by to the Armenian. We had become fast
friends and I discovered in the year ahead close and true
friendships developed between prisoners who shared com-
The police led me outside where a police car, commonly
nicknamed "Black Raven," was waiting with two police-
men in it. We drove off down the main street of Sofia and
only minutes after we started we arrived at a big white
building. It was the headquarters of the "DS" — the
dreaded Secret Police.
"Welcome to the White House, Prisoner Popov'
The Secret Police was called Dershavna Sigornost, or
DS. It was headquartered in a large white building
nicknamed by the people, * 'The White House. ' ' But I assure
you this "White House" was very different from the Ameri-
can White House! Many of our country's finest men have
gone into the "White House" and have never come out alive.
It was rumored that the "White House" even had its own
subterranean "graveyard" for disposal of bodies of its vic-
To the people of Bulgaria the name DS meant disap-
pearance, suffering and death. Over one cell door was written
a quotation from Dante's The Divine Comedy: "All hope
abandon, ye who enter here." How appropriate! More
people have died here than have come out alive, and those
who survive do not live very long because of the torture to
which they have been subjected. There was talk that people
who passed the DS building could hear screams coming up
through the cobblestone street from the sprawling complex of
subterranean cells below. I later found out this was true.
When the ' ' Black Raven' ' stopped and I was led into the
building, fear and insecurity swept over me. It had been a
week of sleeplessness and interrogation, and my body trem-
bled and shook. As I was led through the door, the words
from Psalm 73:28 came to me "... I have put my trust in
the Lord God. ..."
I knew I couldn't expect help from anyone else here in
the "White House." I breathed a silent prayer, "God, my
life is in Your hands. " My fears began to melt away. I had a
very strong feeling of peace. The tension in my body was
gone . Death was perhaps waiting for me in the DS ** White
House," but my heart praised and worshiped the Lord.
When a man faces death, he examines himself and
thinks of how he stands in relation with God. He sees things
very clearly. I had resigned myself to the thought that my life
on earth would soon be over and that within a short time I
would be with the Lord. It was clear to me that I had been
brought here to die. In the past week I had lost everything that
was dear to me on earth — my wife, my family, my church,
my home — but I felt God right beside me as I walked
through the doors into the DS headquarters.
The guard looked at me mockingly and said, * * Welcome
to the White House, Prisoner Popov." Once more I was
stripped and searched, then led upstairs to the third floor.
Going up the stairs I noticed a wire net over the stairwell, put
there so no prisoner could escape the DS by throwing himself
over the stairs. Evidently so many prisoners had tried to
commit suicide, this wire net had to be put up to catch them.
Up on the third floor, I was led down a long dark
hallway, with grimy barred windows on one side and rows of
rusty, dark cell doors on the other side. Each cell door had a
little "Judas hole" with a sliding cover over it. These "Judas
holes" allowed the guards to watch the prisoners. Barely
audible moans came from the occupants of the cells. Guards
had on thick cloth shoes so the prisoners couldn't hear their
But let me tell you how I arrived at this point in my life. .
A "Hard-Core" Atheist Finds Christ
I was born and spent my youth in the beautiful little
town of Krasno Gradiste, in Bulgaria. There were four of us
children, three brothers and a sister. We were born in an old
Turkish-built farmhouse, consisting of one room and a kitch-
en. The ceiling was so low that my father had to duck so as
not to hit his head on the beams above. The house had a din
floor, which mother painted with a mixture of manure, clay
and water. It didn't smell very nice, but it was a disinfectam,
and the manure kept the floor from cracking.
We all slept in one room, on the floor covered with rugs
made of plaited reeds. On one side of the kitchen was the
large blackened fireplace on which stood an array of sooty,
cracked clay pots. The beans which mother cooked for us in
those days were as good as the daily diet of any of the other
villagers. Mother used to say, "If you want good beans, you
must cook them in good water." So we children were sent
down to the river, several hundred yards away, to fetch water
for the beans. They were then cooked in the clay pot to give
them a very special flavor. I have many pleasant memories of
my childhood years. The days went by quickly, some filled
with laughter and some with wranglings, childish pranks and
There were days of poverty, hard work and grief in our
home, but none of these things caused our love for one
another to diminish. In fact, they drew us closer together. We
didn't have a big farm, so the children were sent to larger
farms to work. It was especially difficult for us during the war
years, 1914 to 1918. Father was called into military service
and the following year brought us virtual starvation. During
the winter of 1917- 18, when I was ten years old, I was sent to
work for the richest man in our village, "Grandpa" Kolyo. I
received no wages, but in return for food I led the oxen while
Grandpa, who was 87 but looked and acted much younger,
ploughed his fields. Then in the summer I tended sheep on
my uncle's farm nearby. The war ended and my father came
home. This allowed me to resume my schooling. Even
though we were very poor, my parents managed to send me
to a little school in a nearby village. They were very proud of
my ability to read and did all they could to continue my
education. I began attending school dressed in patched,
home- woven clothes and homemade moccasin- like shoes
made of raw pigskin, with the pig bristles turned out. I looked
a sight! When I got to the higher classes, I was ashamed that I
did not have the regulation uniform and nice shoes. The
result was that I shunned the company of other boys and kept
mostly to myself.
I had my first pair of proper shoes when I was 1 7 years of
age. When I put them on, my self-esteem grew enormously
(probably too much!) and I began to look for friends among
my classmates. I grew up as rather egotistical, and as an
atheist. That's a bad combination! When I finished the town
school I went to Ruse, a large city on the Danube River, to
look for work. I knew only one person in Ruse, a former
neighbor named Christo who had moved there several years
earlier. Christo had a job at the water works and lived on the
premises in a little room about six feet square. Although it
was so small and most of the space was taken up by a bed, he
agreed to let me share the room and we became close friends.
This was in November, 1925. At that time there was much
unemployment in Bulgaria and I couldn't find permanent
work. I got an occasional job, but mostly lived off the salary
of my friend, Christo.
One evening, Christo invited me to go with him to a
nearby Baptist church, though he knew that I was a con-
vinced atheist. Because of my friendship with him, it was
impossible to turn him down. It was my first time in a
Protestant church. I had known only of the Orthodox Church
and thought that all churches were alike, so I was surprised to
find that the interior of the Baptist church was quite different
from the Orthodox Church. In fact, everything was different!
The service was conducted in Bulgarian instead of the old
Slavic language which the priests usually used and which few
could understand anymore.
Instead of the monotonous singing of the Orthodox
mass, I heard beautiful hymns sung to melodies of Bach,
Mendelssohn, Beethoven and other great composers. Here
the whole congregation took part; in the Orthodox churches,
only the priests and the choir sang.
I even saw songbooks! Christo had already learned the
songs and sang along while I followed the words in the
songbook. The beautiful words, written to the praise of God,
made a deep impression on me. I had never expected to hear
an educated, intelligent pastor preach so gloriously of his
faith in God, and in a language I could understand. In our
neighborhood, there was no intelligent person who dared to
acknowledge that he believed in God. "Religion" was for
the old and feeble-minded in my opinion.
After the meeting we talked with two elderly ladies who
were known in the city as having a good education. They
talked to us about God and tried to prove to us that He
existed, but despite what I had seen and heard in the church
and all that the ladies had said, my proud intellect refused to
acknowledge that there was a God.
For the first time, however, I began to wonder whether
I was right.
That night a spiritual struggle began within me that
lasted many days. The question was: Is there a God? In the
Greek Orthodox Church of that time the priests didn' t need to
have any schooling and only old men and women attended
the services. You never saw any educated people believing in
God. At least, that was the way we atheists liked to think. We
who had an education looked down on those "simple" men
and women who claimed to have "religion" or believed in
God. And now I heard educated and cultured people openly
testifying that God exists! They told what Christ meant to
them and had done for them . This impressed me more than all
the sermons, and to this day, I am a strong believer in the
effectiveness of "living testimonies" in bringing men to
I discussed my conflict with Christo and he said he
would introduce me to a man who could help me. Shortly
after, Christo invited a man to visit us. His name was Petroff .
He read to us from his Bible. He was not an eloquent preacher
but every word he uttered proved to me that God existed. He
witnessed of how he knew of God's personal presence. When
he told of what Christ meant to him, his face shone with the
love of God. It was obvious to me at that moment that there
was a God.
I saw Him in this godly man.
Petroff s testimony convinced me of God's existence
and I began earnestly and intensively to seek God. I found
/ wasn't so much seeking God as God was seeking me. I
received a wonderful life-changing experience of salvation in
Jesus Christ, and Petroff became my spiritual father. Shortly
afterward I went to live with Petroff to be closer to his Bible
teaching and with his assistance got a job on the State rail-
ways. The work was heavy, but the joy of my new-found
salvation in Jesus Christ made me buoyant with joy and
peace. I was very happy in Christ!
The Hand of God on a Man
Each night, Petroff and I would read from the Bible and
talk together for hours about God's Word. In time others
joined us until we had quite a little "flock" of believers.
Gradually our little gathering took the form of a proper
church and under the deeply spiritual ministry of Petroff we
were greatly blessed by God. It was February, 1929, when
Petroff said, "Haralan, God has His hand on you. He wants
you for His work." I, too had felt His hand upon me and
leading me in this direction. I deeply loved my new found
Christ, and prayed all night promising, "God, my entire life
is Yours. I am ready to give unto You all I have."
That promise was put to severe testing in the years
ahead, but I never regretted it.
To serve Him is wonderful, but to suffer for Him is an
even higher privilege.
To prepare myself for Christian service I attended Bible
Institutes in Danzig and England, where I met a young Bible
student from Sweden, Her name was Ruth. Like her Bible
namesake, she was deeply dedicated to the Lord. She said,
"Haralan, wherever you go, I go also." So I went back to
Bulgaria not only with a knowledge of God's Word, but with
a wife as well.
The years that followed were nothing less than a gift
from God. A great time of spiritual harvest came to Bulgaria
and in a few short years I was pastoring the largest church in
the nation. At the same time, I evangelized across the land.
God's hand was so abundantly upon all of us and the Word of
God grew mightily in Bulgaria. For over 16 years I pastored
my church and "doubled-up" as an evangelist in mountain
towns and villages where the Word of God had not yet
secured a foothold. The war years came and things were very
difficult, but were only a little testing period for the great
tribulation which lay just ahead of us.
In 1944, a dark menace came riding into our homeland
on the heels of the Russian Army: the menace of com-
munism. The communists slowly gained power while our
country was lying prostrate at the feet of the Red Army.
At first the Communist Party was most cooperative with
other political parties and even formed a coalition govern-
ment. In three years, the other parties were banned, their
leaders imprisoned and the Communist Party was in full
Bulgaria Becomes "Little Russia'
We had heard of our fellow-Christians in Russia and
what they had suffered, but little did we know that Bulgaria
would become so like Russia it would be — and still is —
called "Little Russia/' We braced for the worst, but
strangely the blow we expected did not come. In fact, a
"twilight" period of religious freedom set in. It wasn't
because the communists were for religious liberty. It was
simply that they were too busy consolidating their political
power and getting everything firmly in hand before turning to
"deal" with us — as they put it. So instead of the blow we
expected we suddenly had a great gift from God: three
years — from 1944 to 1947 — during which God restrained
their hand and allowed us to work.
And work we did! Day and night, month after month we
evangelized, spread the Gospel and built up the faith of the
believers before the dark night of communism fell upon us.
As they had warned, we knew the communists would soon
"deal" with us. Feverishly, with a sense of running out of
time — we labored and God honored our labors with a great
time of harvest across Bulgaria. I conducted several mass-
baptisnis in the Black Sea for the many young people who
had found Christ. Undoubtedly, our feverish work for Christ
during this three years "before the storm** caused us to be
singled out for the "special" treatment which was to follow
in communist prisons.
The very intensity of our work during the "calm before
the storm" made us marked men. We didn't have long. As
soon as the communists had consolidated their power we
knew it would be our time.
Better Spies Than Christian Martyrs
The first sign that our time had come was a whispering
campaign to slander the country's leading pastors. Despite
this campaign, revival spread and new churches formed so
the government devised a more subtle procedure. Gradually
the pastors of the churches were taken away and replaced by
persons who would be "willing tools" in the hands of the
communists. They concentrated on putting their puppets into
When puppet pastors had been put into many pulpits,
the next target was chosen: the top Bulgarian church leaders
from Baptist, Methodist, Congregational, Pentecostal and
Evangelical denominations. I was one of them.
A vicious slander campaign started. We were accused
of being ' 'spies. ' * Better "spies" than Christian martyrs . We
were described as "instruments of imperialism." At first
when I heard this I laughed.
The real truth meant nothing to those who were deter-
mined to destroy the Christian Church. We, the fifteen lead-
ers of Bulgaria's Evangelical denominations, were publicly
It was obvious that we were not guilty of the charges laid
against us, but a smear campaign was started to distort all that
we had said and done in order to blacken us. It was noised
about through the press and other media that we had betrayed
our country to the English and the Americans. Thus began
the campaign that was to lead us into prison and torture.
During the following thirteen years and two months that I
spent in prison I often wondered why God allowed such a
thing to happen. The long period of self-examination helped
me better to understand the Bible's teaching that we must go
through suffering to enter the kingdom of God. Paul and
Barnabas told the disciples in Asia Minor, "we must through
much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts
14:22). The Apostle Peter says the same thing (I Peter 1:6-7)
"Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if
need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of
gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be
found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of
Jesus Christ.' '
Man's first natural reaction when looking at suffering is
to think it is too hard to bear. We try to avoid it, but later we
find that the suffering becomes of great value and is more
precious that gold. Suffering was a fire which our churches
had to undergo so that all that was hay and stubble would be
burned up, leaving the pure gold shining more brightly than
ever. In the process the "structure" of the church would be
destroyed or subverted, but there would remain a true, living
Church, the Body of Christ, the Suffering Church.
This was all just ahead of us.
These were the events that had led me from being an
ardent atheist to my position now as a pastor facing torture for
Christ in the dreaded "White House."
The Cell Walls Speak
I was led down the corridor to cell number 21 . The big
key rattled in the lock and I was shoved in and once more was
cut off from the outside world. In the cell was a young man
named Tsonny. He told me he had been there for 3 months
and was never given any reason for his imprisonment. In a
corner of the cell was the bucket which for the next six
months was our toilet. These buckets were a standard feature
of prison life. They were emptied only rarely and sometimes
overflowed. Often they took away the lid and the foul smell
was overwhelming. There was only the bare cement floor on
which to sleep and the walls were of grimy stone. They were
cluttered with mottoes, prayers, slogans and quotations
scratched into the surface with some hard object by previous
The walls were almost like a "diary" or chronicle of
condemned men. In places the walls seemed to be painted
dark red, but on closer examination I found the red wasn't
paint. It was the blood of countless bedbugs which had been
killed by former prisoners as the insects crawled up the wall.
The "red walls'* of other such cells were also to become
common sights in the years ahead. The first night in the DS I
killed 539 bedbugs, many after they had taken blood from
me. To help take our minds off our situation T sonny and I
counted them. (We never tried that again!)
On the walls one could read about many of the afflic-
tions and longings of former inmates. I could almost tell their
personalities, their nightmares, their hopes, their dreams,
reflected in these sad etchings. One etching read, "When you
enter here believe in God and pray to Saint Theresa/' evi-
dently written by a Catholic. A Pushkin Elegy was written in
Russian the full length of the wall. It contained three verses
which I memorized. Above the door someone had scratched
an old Latin proverb, "Dumspirospero," whichmeans "As
long as I breathe, I hope. ' ' I felt I knew the former inhabitants
of that cell by their scratchings on the wall.
What stories of human bravery, despair and crushed
dreams I saw on this cell wall and countless others during 13
I made it a practice to scratch Bible verses and words of
comfort on the walls of every cell I occupied, hoping those
words would bring comfort and help to the next occupant.
Cell walls were not only the "paper" on which I scratched
Bible verses, but later were the "sounding board" for the
"Prison Telegraph" on which I tapped the Word of God to
the men in the adjacent cells.
How wonderful and just, I thought, that walls built to
imprison men would become "paper" for the Word of God
and the "wire" for the Prison Telegraph to send forth the
Good News. But because this was the first time I had experi-
enced such an ordeal, and because the first week had been
such a shattering time, it was difficult for me to keep up my
All prisoners will tell you that the first few months are
always the worst. I said to myself, If the man who scratched
into the wall the words, "As long as I breathe, I hope,"
could keep hope alive, surely I as a believer can put my life
entirely in the hands of God. I gave myself a "lecture" and
felt better. Even though I didn't know what the day would
bring I had assurance, serenity and peace in my heart. Like
Paul I was determined that "in whatever state I am, therewith
to be content."
I spent exactly five months in cell number 21, from
August 1 to December 31 . Cell 21 in the DS "White House"
became a "chamber of suffering" for me. Every time I think
of it today the cold chills run up my spine. In 2 Corinthians
12:4, the Apostle Paul speaks about "unspeakable words,
which it is not lawful for a man to utter." However, I should
like to tell about the unspeakable suffering which is difficult
to express with the human tongue or to put into writing.
Since I was exhausted from standing on my feet every
night for a week, I lay on the bare floor and stretched out. All
of a sudden there was a loud, cracking sound like automatic
rifle fire coming down the corridor. "What was that?" I
asked Tsonny . He smiled and explained that it had been done
intentionally by the guards to scare the prisoners and prevent
them from sleeping. The sound was caused by hitting sharply
on the cell doors with an iron bar, making sounds like loud
rifle shots. It was repeated every ten minutes throughout that
night and every night for five months. It was almost impossi-
ble to sleep and that's exactly what was intended.
On the morning of August 2, 1 was taken from my cell to
a comfortable office on the ground floor. To my great as-
tonishment I found there a young man whom I knew very
well. His name was Veltcho Tchankov. My heart leaped for
joy when I saw Veltcho ! I had known him since he was a boy
I knew also that he was a communist. When the com-
munists had come to Bulgaria on the heels of the Red Army in
1944, Veltcho had joined them immediately. In the three
years since, he had become the Chief of the Secret Police in
Burgas. Despite the differences in our ways of life, we had
long seemed to hold a kind of mutual respect for each other.
So I was glad to see him again and thought this was the first
ray of hope since my arrest. But how Veltcho had changed! A
month later I learned that Veltcho , my ' * old friend , ' ' was the
one who had staged the whole campaign against all the
evangelical pastors! I saw what power can do to a man.
The communists when out of power are often congenial ,
cooperative and mild. But let them gain power and you will
see what they are really like! Let those who "play" with
communism remember the lesson of Veltcho, the "kind"
communist who gained power.
Communist parties out of power purposely seem
"reasonable" and kind, but let them come to power and their
true nature will be revealed. The prisons were full of men
who thought the communists were just another political par-
ty. Many of the people who said they were "just another
political party" and tolerated communists were executed
when the communists took over. Let the Western countries
who tolerate communist parties beware! Those "little" par-
ties may seem mild now, but if they gain power, you will see
their true nature just as we did!
I said, " Veltcho, it's so good to see you again." He
looked at me with hostility and said, "We know each other,
Popov, and I warn you if you want to see your wife again you
must do exactly as I say."
"But what have I done, Veltcho?"
He shouted back, "Never call me Veltcho again. I am
Comrade Tchankov and you are Prisoner Popov. Never
He went on, "You must criticize your crimes. If you
confess it will be much easier for you. The People's Gov-
eminent is very lenient and we will forgive all your crimes.
We know you are a good person, but you must conform to us
and the new society we are building."
These words, "conform to us," I heard the whole
Then a torrent of words poured forth from Veltcho's
1 'I repeat, you must conform and confess your crimes ! ' *
he shouted. * 'If you refuse to obey me, you will be making
the greatest mistake of your life and will live to regret it. You
will learn we don't play around, and we aren't going to let
you be a religious martyr. You would like that, wouldn't
you, Popov? Well, we're not going to give you that chance.
If we made you a religious martyr it would only make the
Christians stronger. We're not about to let that happen. Do
you think we are stupid? We're going to slander and blacken
you until even the Christians will say your name in disgust. ' '
I was stunned by Veltcho's words. His plan was satani-
cally clever and he spoke like an inspired man.
I replied, "The people of Bulgaria know me. They will
know the real reason." He only laughed. Only later did I
realize I was up against specialists at making black look
white, and truth look false.
The Nazis were cruel, but the communists were cruel
and satanically clever. That is the only real difference be-
tween the Nazis and communists in practice. Veltcho's
threats were later carried out with mathematical precision,
point by point.
Veltcho ordered me back to my cell. I went in utter
despair and told Tsonny about my conversation with Vel-
tcho. He advised me never to confess to anything I hadn't
done. The advice was good, but impossible to carry out
during the following months.
I sat in my cell in semi-shock. I had thought the com-
munists were just misguided men. But this encounter with
Veltcho shook me deeply. I realized I was up against the
cleverness and evil of Satan himself. For the first time the
enormity of what I faced and the cunning of these satanically
inspired men hit me.
The "Death Diet"
It started with starvation. The feelings of starvation
— like the feelings of love — are impossible to describe.
daily food ration was two slices of bread and six table -
oos of "soup" which was really flavored water, slimy
I putrid. The diet was carefully and scientifically designed
to barely sustain life — nothing more. The prisoners called it
'the Death Diet." It consisted mainly of water and was
enough only to maintain a weak pulse. At the same time, it
was enough to stimulate the gastric juices, causing one to feel
hunger more acutely than if he had nothing to eat at all.
If a person doesn't eat at all he gradually dies, but his taste
bods are dormant and he is mercifully spared the hellish
pangs of hunger. I wasn't spared. The two slices of bread and
'ablespoons of "soup" came at 6 p.m. They were gone
a o minutes and there was no more food until the next day
at 6 p.m. The goal was to "break" me and I confess that
starvation is a horrible and effective tool. The hunger made
body feel as if it had malarial fever. These feelings were
with me day and night for the next five years.
It must be understood that the communists were not
attempting to "brain-wash" me. They knew they could
er accomplish this. Brain-washing means to completely
and permanently change a person's mind and make his mind
. r to be totally dedicated to another and different way of
thinking. The communists knew they could never do this
with me and they didn't try.
They were out to break my will — bludgeoning, bat-
tering, torturing, abusing and starving me to the point where
my will was totally broken and just collapsed. They knew
that after my will was totally broken and they had what they
wanted from .me, I would regain my will and come back to
myself. Thus, their tactic was not to brain- wash me, but to so
batter and drive me beyond human endurance that temporar-
l would simply lose my will. Brain- washing calls for
alternating between good and bad treatment. Destroying a
person's will is simpler — it requires only brutal, unrelent-
ing beatings, starvation and torture building up to a rising
peak and crescendo of horror where a person no longer has a
will of his own. This was their tactic . . . and they began it
with a fury and brutality.
Starvation, sleeplessness and standing with one's face
toward the wall week after week are the chief 4 tools'* in
breaking a man's will. This treatment can transform an
intelligent and rational person into an animal. The only thing
that remains after such treatment is the animal's instinct to
look for something to eat. My guard used to say that I "must
become stiller than water and lower than grass."
The Punishment Cell
On August 5, under the "death diet" I was put into
solitary confinement and subjected to a 24-hour- a-day, non-
stop interrogation. I had three interrogators, each one work-
ing an eight hour shift. This allowed them to keep up the
physical and psychological torture 24 hours a day. This
solitary confinement cell had one very unusual feature. The
wall was shiny white, painted with a white high gloss enamel
paint. I was ordered to stand facing the glaring white wall at a
distance of eight inches and to keep my eyes open — wide
open. My interrogator began to shout —
"You must not move one inch!"
'You must not close your eyes for one moment!"
"You must not shift your weight!"
"You must not move a muscle!"
"You must not . . . You must not . . . "on and on he
ranted as I stood at the wall. After only a few moments my
eyes burned like hot irons werein them. At 8 inches I was so
close to the glaring white enamelled wall my eyes couldn't
focus. I suggest that my readers try this for only a moment.
One's eyes rebel. They fight to close or to focus and they
can't. It is terribly painful and yet when I merely blinked, my
interrogator struck me across the side of my face.
The pain in my eyes became unbearable. 'Tell me
about your spy activities!" shouted the interrogator.
"lama pastor, ' ' I replied, * 'I have worked for Christ all
my life. I have never spied/' The interrogator gave me
another blow to the side of my head. My ear rang from the
impact of the blow and again he shouted, "Tell me how you
spied for the Americans!'*
Again, I replied, "I am a pastor, a servant of God. I
have only worked for God. I don't know anything about your
Later, as the years of brutality passed, I became
hardened to such beatings and they affected me only physi-
cally. But then early in my imprisonment these blows af-
fected me and disoriented me, psychologically as well as
The interrogator who beat me was a big, grim man. In
the years ahead, I had time to reflect on these guards and
interrogators. I always tried to pray the most for a guard
while he was beating me. I realized that in one sense they
were sadder cases than those of us they beat.
What a tragedy was theirs!
Step by step, as they brutalized prisoners and beat us,
they descended down the ladder of humanity to the level of
beasts. Their faces, after a time, defied description and they
became like animals.
We prisoners would eventually recover, but the guards
suffered a permanent crippling of their humanity. Thus,
during the beatings I tried to keep my perspective and prayed
for them. I found that it actually eased the pain of the blows.
"Tell me about your spy work!" screamed the inter-
rogator. "I am a pastor, I — " and before I could finish the
sentence another ringing blow hit the side of my face. A
pattern emerged during that first long day. I was forced to
stand absolutely still, not moving a muscle, my eyes burning
like balls of fire staring at the shiny white wall 8 inches in
front of me. From behind me the voice of my interrogator
would shout, "Tell us about your spy activities!" I would
reply, **I am only a pastor. I have never done anything but
preach the Gospel . * '
A ringing blow to my head followed, then several min-
utes of silence. Then again the question, again my reply and
again the blow to my head. As the hours passed, the ques-
tions came less frequently and I wondered why the inter-
rogator waited so long between questions. After an hour or
two it dawned on me; time itself was their weapon. Time was
on their side and they counted on its wearing effect to wear
me down. Hour after hour that first day, the pattern of
question, answer, blow, pause, question, answer, blow,
continued. I lost all track of time. I had only the terrible
burning in my eyes and to close them for only a minute
became an obsession with me. My body went numb. I lost all
sense of time and was jarred into reality only by the different
sound of the new interrogator's voice, signaling that 8 hours
had passed and a new shift had begun.
Now the pauses between questions were longer, as long
as an hour. They were in no hurry. The night came and
passed like an eternity. Sleep weighted my eyelids, but even
a brief closure would bring a blow. My legs ached . My whole
body rebelled, yet I could not move a muscle. Everything
became hazy and time itself seemed to cease.
Dazed, I suddenly heard the sharp, fresh voice of my
first interrogator shouting, "So, Popov, you are still here!
Well, I am rested. We shall start again!" Then it struck nae.
A full day had passed and the first of my three interrogators
was back on duty again.
Hunger welled up in my stomach. I had been starved
before, given only crumbs of bread, but now I didn't even
have crumbs. When 1 had received them the crumbs had
seemed so little. Now with nothing even the crumbs seemed
like a feast!
The Fourth Day at the Wall
Hour after hour passed. Day after day came and went.
The time from midnight to morning was the worst. I had now
not slept, not eaten, not moved for four days. The inter-
rogator watched especially carefully to catch me when my
head nodded or my eyes closed. They took special delight in
catching a twitching muscle or a blinking eye as an excuse for
a blow. Also, they wore felt shoes so I couldn't tell whether
they were just behind me or across the room.
On the fourth day my hunger left and deep thirst took
over. The blood began to settle in my legs and they began to
swell up. My lips were dry, cracked and bleeding. Then
another dimension of punishment took place. The inter-
rogators began to eat noisily and drink water close to me to
increase my thirst. The torture was not only physical, but also
very much mental.
The deep, burning thirst was like nothing I have ever
experienced or heard about before. It was like a fiery ball of
lava burning in my stomach and parching my lips.
A deep fever consumed and wracked my body. Dehyd-
ration set in and the agony became almost unbearable. To this
day when I read of a man dying of thirst in the desert, the
all-consuming pangs of thirst hit me again and wherever I am
I must go and drink deeply of water.
Another enjoyed drinking water a few feet away from
me and one twitch of my parched, cracked lips, and without
warning I was hit.
The thirst raged on within me like a raging fever. To this
day I can't explain how I stayed on my feet through those
days and nights. It had to be God with me, for no man has the
strength in himself.
Slowly, the questioning stopped. It became a waiting
game, my interrogators waiting for my collapse. In my
feverish condition, I began having hallucinations. Little
spots on the white wall in front of me came alive. I saw faces
of people, of Ruth and Paul and Rhoda, then of the guards.
Swirling patterns of blazing color were like a mad kaleido-
scope in front of me. I was certain 1 was going mad,
The Tenth Day
Still the collapse didn't come. I lost all track of time.
One day blurred into another. My swollen legs became huge,
engorged with blood from complete immobility. My lips
were cracked wide open and bleeding. My beard was long,
for I had not been allowed to wash nor shave since the day I
was arrested. My eyes were balls of fire. Yet, somehow I
stood. On the tenth night, sometime after midnight I heard
my interrogator snoring as he dozed off. I moved my stiff
neck to the right and left. Off to the left about six feet away
there was a window. Since it was dark outside I could see a
reflection in the window, like a mirror. I recoiled in horror.
It was a monster s reflection*. I saw a horrible emaciated
figure, legs swollen, eyes like empty holes in the head, with a
long beard covered with dried blood from cracked, bleeding
and hideously swollen lips.
It was a grotesque, horrible figure. I was repulsed by it.
Suddenly, it struck me. That horrible, bleeding gro-
tesque figure was me I That " monster" was me.
My numbed mind slowly absorbed this fact and tears
came into my eyes. Suddenly, I felt crushed, so alone, so by
myself. I felt as Christ must have when He cried, "My God,
my God, why hast thou forsaken me?' ' I couldn't weep tears,
but my body heaved with unwept tears. Then, in that moment
of total, crushing hopelessness, I heard a voice as clear and
distinct as any voice I have ever heard in my life. It said, **I
will never leave you nor forsake you. ..."
It was so audible I dared to glance to my dozing inter-
rogator, certain he had heard it, too, but he slept on.
The presence of God filled the Punishment Cell and
enveloped me in a divine warmth, infusing strength into the
shell that was my body.
It had a definite, startling physical effect on me.
My interrogator awoke with a start. He came over next
to me and could sense something had happened. He didn't
know what, but he was so aware of the difference he rushed
out and returned with another officer. They couldn't under-
stand it. I heard the anxious, whispered voices of the inter-
rogators behind me, trying to figure out what happened. I
seemed to be so fresh and alive, infused with a new strength.
I have never felt closer to God in my life than at that moment.
He became so close to me, my heart longed to see Him. I had
felt the presence of God so close and it was wonderful,
superior to any feeling I have ever had. It was like a foretaste
of what being with God in eternity will be like and I didn't
want to go back.
I prayed for death. I longed for death. It was a welcome
door by which I would see the Christ whom I had loved and
served so long.
The Fourteenth Day
The presence of God buoyed me up for a long time, but
on the fourteenth day the total starvation, thirst and burning
fire in my eyes became too much. 1 was clearly dying. I felt
detached. So this is what it's like to die, I thought.
Any minute I shall see Christ.
The guard saw that something was happening and
rushed out, returning with a doctor. The doctor took one look
at me and said to the officer, "This man is dying." Their
voices seemed as though they came from a far distance. They
evidently weren't ready for me to die yet, because I felt
myself being moved. What must have been an hour later, I
came to in my cell. From the look of horror on Tsonny 's face,
I must have looked hideous. I couldn't move. My legs were
swollen up like an elephant's legs. My lips were cracked
open and bleeding. My-eyes were deep black holes in my
head, the pupils flaming red. For a week I couldn't focus my
eyes or use them properly. As consciousness slowly re-
turned, Tsonny told me the date. I couldn't believe it. I had
been standing for 14 days! I cannot explain how it was
possible. Later that day , they brought me food, water and let
me rest. Painfully, my cellmate helped me lift my huge
swollen legs high and propped them up against the wall so the
blood would run down. I fell into a deep sleep. I thought the
worst was over.
The next night, after midnight, I was again called down
for questioning, this time by an officer named Eleas. There
were four or five others waiting for me in the room. As I
stepped in I was met with jeering, scoffing and humiliation.
Then they started hitting me. I swayed across the room and
fell, was dragged up again and hit some more. Obviously
they had decided to add more physical torture to the mental
During all these things, I remained silent. Even though I
had gained a little strength from my rest I was still very weak
and the least shove would make me fall. They didn't hit me
hard, for that would have knocked me unconscious. Finally,
Eleas loaded his pistol, grabbed me by the collar, and half-
dragged me out into the corridor. I was bleeding profusely
from my nose. It was pitch dark. He pushed me ahead of him
to the end of the corridor where there was a dim light burning.
He kept his pistol pressed against my back all the time. When
we reached the light he shouted, "Stop! Face the wall."
I turned to the usual position, noticing spattered blood
and chips in the plaster from impacted bullets. Obviously,
this remote, dark end of a subterranean corridor was where
many others had met their deaths. Eleas turned off the light. It
was cold and pitch dark. Death hung heavy in the dank air.
Eleas pressed the pistol into the back of my neck.
4 ' Popov," he said, "we've had enough of your stub-
bornness. This is your last night. You must die because of
your stubbornness in refusing to confess your espionage. I
am giving you your last and final chance. While I count to
five you may think it over, and confess that you are a spy. If
you are sensible you may live, but if you are not I will shoot
you at the count of five."
I was sure he was going to shoot me, for thousands of
others had been shot in the DS White House before me. I
knew these people carried out their threats.
The thought of death as a bridge to eternity flashed
across my mind. I would see Jesus! I was filled with certainty
that this hellish torment would soon be over. It was as if
eternity had already begun for me and only the formality of
death remained. Mentally, I was prepared and was already
"with Christ." I waited only for the shot to go off, and I
would be taken up on angels' wings to Heaven — to Jesus,
my Savior. There was such a longing in my heart in that
magnificent moment to see Jesus. How appealing this was for
me. All this torture ended. To see Him! To be with Christ!
Many people don't like to think about death. They fear
and tremble at the word ** death" and see death as a forbid-
ding black figure. Why do people fear death? First, because
they don't believe in God. For those who have not accepted
Christ as their Savior death is the most terrible experience
there is. People fear death because they are not sure of their
salvation. Their sin makes them conscious that there is some
accountability after death.
But for a person who believes in Jesus and is sure of his
faith and salvation through the cleansing blood of Christ,
there is no death. We do not believe in death, because there is
no death for those who are in Christ Jesus. In John 11:26,
Jesus said to Martha, the sister of the dead Lazarus,
* . . . whosoever liveth and belie veth in me shall never
die." After that He asked her a remarkable question: "Be-
lie vest thou this?"
If there is one certainty in this uncertain world it is the
Word, of God. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but the
Word of God shall never pass away. Up to now, I had never
imagined what death would be like, but for me death was not
a dark spectre, but an angel come to liberate me. Death to me
does not appear dark and grim. It is full of light and gladness,
for Revelation 14:13 says, " . . . Blessed are the dead
which die in the Lord from henceforth. ' ' And Psalm 1 16: 15
tells us, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his
saints." Truly, for those who are saved, death is not only a
gateway to heaven but also a triumphal arch through which
we march with victorious joy and a glorious song.
Eleas began to count slowly, pausing a long while
between each number to give me a chance to blurt out my
confession. "One ..." a long pause, "... two . . . '
another long pause, "... three ..." he counted very
slowly, all the while pressing the pistol to my head so I could
feel it. He believed that I would be afraid of deatl}. But Eleas
couldn't see what was going on inside me! He didn't know
that I was waiting for the moment when I would see my
Master, whom I loved more than anything else, whom I had
served and about whom I had preached.
When Eleas continued with a long, drawn-out f-o-u-r,
something almost unbelievable happened. The Holy Spirit
came upon me in a greater measure than ever before. It
happened to me as it did to Gideon in Judges 6:34: "But the
Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon. ..." I became as
courageous as Gideon and as strong as Samson. I do not see
myself as a courageous man. But Gideon's God is my God,
and was with me in that dark corridor. Eleas paused after
counting to * ' four. ' ' But he paused too long for me . I heard a
voice coming from deep within me — fearless, strong, de-
manding. It shouted, "Don't wait -Don't wait! Shoot me
straight in the head!" Eleas jumped back in panic and fear.
He hadn't expected this, and neither had I!
He couldn't understand (nor could I) where my strength
had come from! I had been so weak and exhausted that I
could hardly walk. But Eleas was even more surprised than I
was. I braced myself for the bullet, but instead I felt a
cracking blow on the back of my head. In that fleeting
moment before unconsciousness swept over me, I realized
Eleas had intended only to bluff me into a confession, not to
kill me. A pain of disappointment — so real it was
physical — welled up in my heart, far greater than the pain
splitting my head.
I was so deeply, deeply disappointed. I was ready to
meet death, but I was still in this life. I was so ready to be with
Christ, but I was still with Eleas. Why had death been denied
me? Before unconsciousness swept over me, I cried out
within my heart, "God, I was faithful to the death, but death
I was taken back to my cell and thrown into it uncon-
As I came to, Tsonny had pulled me over against the
wall and was wiping the blood from the back of my head. To
be so close to God, and to awaken back in the DS cell! It was
a crushing disappointment, but I breathed a prayer, "Lord,
not my will, but Thy will be done, ' ' I fell into a deep and long
Later, the cell door was opened and a new prisoner was
let in. He sat in a corner of the cell as if he was ashamed and
said not a word. Gradually, he became more talkative. He
said his name was Nickolai Gantchef , that he had served for
many years in the royal palace guard of our previous King
Boris, and that he was now arrested on charges of being a
monarchist and of taking part in some conspiracy or another.
Tsonny was suspicious of him, but I, in my naivete and
still suffering from the beating, believed all he said was true.
I later learned that this man had been placed in our cell to spy
on Tsonny and me.
Shortly afterward, Tsonny was taken from the cell. A
year later I met him again in another prison and he told me
that Nickolai had gone to the leaders and said that Tsonny
was wise to him and suspected him and they ought to remove
Tsonny from the cell so he could get on with his job of
helping break me.
Nickolai and I were left alone in the cell, and he picked
up much information about me, which I, in my innocence,
gave him. Later, I became aware of fellow prisoners who
were forced to spy on their cellmates through threats of harm
to their families. I later realized Nickolai 's downcast look
when we first met was from shame. But the Secret Police
quickly learned a prisoner's most vulnerable points — his
children, his wife, for example, and used it without mercy.
Nickolai 's job was to find my vulnerable point. He
quickly found it. It was, of course, my wife and children. I
was worried sick about them. Ruth was all alone, with two
babies to feed and care for, and here I was, powerless to help.
But even those informers I met in prison and who at
times caused me much punishment, I tried to love and under-
stand rather than hate. They, too, were victims like me.
Pathetically, prisoners often tried to speak harshly about their
own wives and children so the Secret Police would think they
didn't care about their families, and thus would leave them
unharmed and in peace.
Many times I have heard men curse their wives and
children as though they didn't care — then turn, bury their
faces in their hands and shake with weeping.
Informers were found not only in places where systema-
tic campaigns were planned (such as the one against me);
they were everywhere, in prisons, camps, homes, places of
employment, and even in the congregations of churches. To
improve their own situation in prisons and to lessen their own
suffering, many prisoners made themselves available as in-
formers. The communists cannot sleep calmly if they don't
know about everyone — such as who thinks what about
them, or who says what about them. Consequently, in all
Bulgaria there was hardly a cell, a block, or a place of
employment, or a church which didn't have an informer who
reported what was said. It is just as bad today.
Preaching the Gospel to the Secret Police
At the beginning of September, 1948 , 1 was turned over
to a lawyer named Peter Manoff, who was to conduct the
interrogation until I * 'confessed. * * Every night I was ordered
to write down information about myself, my work, friends,
friends of friends — everything they wanted to know about
It seemed harmless and it would give me a chance to
rest, so I started writing. I decided I would weave in a
testimony of Christ in every possible place, with the slightest
opening. They especially wanted me to write about every-
thing that happened in my life. That suited me just fine. It
gave me so many chances to tell my interrogators what Christ
meant to me 1 1 knew they had to read what I wrote, so I filled
it all with the Word of God and my testimony.
Manoff was busy the whole day in court as a prosecutor
and came in the evening to give me new assignments and
appoint a new guard. The only sleep I was able to get during
the whole month were short "cat naps." I was allowed to
come back to the cell each morning, at noon and again in the
evening, perhaps for fifteen minutes at a time. I received my
ten ounces of bread and the flavored water they called
"soup" every day.
I used this short time to rest and sleep a little.
I was extremely weak because of lack of sleep and
It would be interesting to read what I wrote during these
nights. I must have written over 2,000 pages in all, often up
to 40 pages in a single night!
Every night I was given a subject on which to write. It
became a game with me to take the assigned subject and find
a logical way to weave in a testimony about Christ. I really
became quite good at this.
Whatever subject they gave me, I found a way of getting
in a testimony! I don't think they appreciated it, but it was so
carefully woven in, it seemed in place and a part of the
whole. It infuriated them, but after all, Christ had been a part
of my daily life since I was converted. And though they hated
it, it was God's Word and they, of all people, needed God's
One of the best chances came when they ordered me to
write on my Bible training at Danzig — which teachers and
friends I had there, what courses they taught. That really was
an opportunity! I gave the lessons in detail, just as my
instructors had taught me. I imagine these were the first
communist interrogators to have Bible lessons! Then they
asked about my Bible School days in London. I really plowed
into that with relish. Here I was, in a communist prison,
using communist paper and communist ink to tell com-
munists the Word of God which I had been taught! They had
said, " Popov, we want all the details!" And I gave ihcmall
the details! Those were some of the most wonderful days I
had in prison. Telling about the Bible classes, brought it all
fresh back to my mind.
One day, they said to me, " Popov, enough is enough.
We don't want to know any more about your Bible School
life and your fairy-tale God!" But, thank God by this time,
they had been exposed to His Word, like it or not. They
ordered me to stick to the situation in Bulgaria. Always, I
tried to find a way to come right back to the Word of God and
what the Lord meant to me . I really 4 ' stretched' * some points ,
but I usually managed to get in my "Gospel message." I
often wonder how many communists my message reached.
But they were smart also. The sheer volume of my
writings enabled them to pick out isolated incidents here and
there and twist them. Unknown to me, the persons mentioned
in my manuscript were thoroughly questioned and harassed.
One of these persons was a Christian brother named
Marko Kostoff who worked on the docks at Burgas, a port on
the Black Sea. He was asked if we had talked together at the
harbor, when we had talked, what we had talked about. In
Bulgaria, a pastor usually calls on the members of his con-
gregation in their homes at least once a month. During my
visits I would talk about God, the needs of the family, and so
on. If the husband worked in the fields, I would talk about the
seed and the harvest. If someone worked for the railways, I
would talk about what he did. In this manner during my
pastoral visits to him I talked with Marko about the harbor
and his work, as well as about spiritual things.
My interrogators decided to make political capital out of
this. Marko recalled at his interrogation that we discussed his
work at the harbor. He mentioned that we once talked about a
barrel of cheese. They had been loading barrels labeled
marmalade onto a ship bound for Russia and one of the
barrels happened to fall to the dock and burst, revealing that it
contained cheese. In Bulgaria at that time there was no
cheese to be obtained anywhere because the authorities were
secretly sending all supplies to Russia labelled "mar-
malade/' Marko had told me about this strange-looking
"marmalade." He recalled that we had talked about this
In this way the authorities claimed that I "obtained
information about activities at the harbor and passed it on to
the English and Americans. ' * Similarly, my church members
who were railway and factory workers, recalled that they had
talked to me about their jobs.
The authorities were carefully constructing a case
against me, being most careful that I not appear as persecuted
for my faith in God. One night I was led to a room on the
fourth floor where I was ordered to sit and write. By this time,
I was a starved skeleton moving in a stupor, a twilight world
of semi-consciousness. The window opened into a court-
yard, on the other side of which was a wing occupied by the
Secret Police. I noticed a lighted window in a room over on
the other wing. Through this window I saw a man being
tortured . He was held down on the floor with his feet up in the
air. Two men pinned him down while a third, armed with a
hard rubber club, beat with all his might on the bare soles of
the poor man's feet. I could hear the blows distinctly all the
way through the closed windows and across the courtyard.
The man screamed in agony and pain. The blows continued
until the man became unconscious and still they didn't stop.
Surely that man never walked on those feet unaided
again. The sight burned itself into me. Then, and countless
nights to come, I closed my eyes so I couldn't see. I covered
my ears so I couldn't hear. "O God, " I prayed, "help me to
turn off my brain and not think!"
Later, I resumed my slow painful writing, but my
thoughts were with that man. I felt very sorry for him. Yet I
was envious of him. I would have willingly traded places
with him. His ordeal lasted only a few hours, but even if the
torture lasted two days, it would be over for good then. He
would be dead and his suffering over. I wished with all my
heart that they might treat me like that, so that my suffering
would end. I understood why they put wire nets over stair-
wells and bars on windows on high floors; these were not to
prevent escapes but suicides. If you died, they wanted you to
go their way, not by your own choosing. But my wish was
not fulfilled. God's thoughts are not our thoughts, and the
Lord had another plan for me. I didn't understand it, but I
Leading Mitko to Christ
Nickolai left the cell at the end of October and I was left
alone to rest — with the "Death Diet" continuing. Though I
was hungry, I was now permitted to sleep, so some of my
strength came back. I gave up fighting the bugs and other
creatures that swarmed over my sleeping body. I needed the
sleep more than I needed the blood they took from me. Most
of my waking hours I spent in prayer. I wasn't so conscious
of my hunger this way, and my spirit was uplifted.
Some days later, the cell door opened and a young man
named Mitko, about 23, was brought into my cell. Poor
Mitko was so young and frightened. He kept pacing the cell
saying over and over, *Tm innocent. I'm innocent!" to no
one in particular. How many times those walls stained dark
red from crushed bugs must have heard this! He was pitiful.
Every time a guard passed by he would begin to shout again,
'Tm innocent!" He praised Lenin and communism loudly,
hoping the guards would hear him talking like a "gbod
communist" and let him out. It was a pathetic, desperate
effort (I have often seen prisoners do this). My heart went out
to him and I began to tell him of Christ and the hope we can
have in salvation. For days I worked to penetrate Mitko's
sheer panic and get through to him. One day the wild look left
his eyes and he began to really listen. My heart rejoiced. I
was really reaching him. Two days later, Mitko said, ' 'Pas-
tor, pray for me."
I knelt down with Mitko and together we prayed. He
prayed so earnestly and intensely, so from the heart, that the
cell floor where he knelt was wet with tears. He had a
wonderful and true experience with Christ. He became
peaceful, quiet, with a deep inner satisfaction from God.
Then I knew if nothing ever came of my imprisonment except
this one soul led to Christ, it would be worth it all.
One day the cell door opened and a guard came in. He
had a paper to say that Mitko was to be freed. Mitko could not
believe it but the guard showed him his release papers. The
guard left to return for Mitko a little later. While waiting to
leave Mitko told me, 4t Pastor, here in this cell I have found
God because of you, and I shall follow Him all the days of my
life." The guard returned and Mitko clasped me farewell. I
have never again seen him but I am sure Mitko stayed true to
I was alone for ten days. I felt so close with God in
solitary confinement that I spent the time in praise and wor-
ship. Such close communion with God! I talked with Him.
He comforted me. It was a spiritual feast for me. During this
time, I received new strength, though my body was wasted
away to nothing. Tears of joy ran down my face. Here, in
the DS prison, alone and with nothing, I had everything —
— Christ. Stripped of everything, without any worldly dis-
tractions, I found a deep and beautiful communion with God.
Joy and peace flooded my soul. My body ached with starva-
tion but my spirit has never been closer to God. Lying
starved, alone and too weak to move, I felt I could reach out
to God and be taken into His arms.
I was freer in that cell than I ever was on the outside.
Free from the world and all its pressures and pursuits, I found
a closeness to God such as never before in my busy days.
Prison stripped away the cumbersome distractions of life and
I found a spiritual depth and unity with Christ. Prison either
destroys a man from within, or it gives him a deep spiritual
strength. Prison, where one is cut off from life, often brings
to light man's most genuine and deep resources. Strangely,
being in the worst of conditions has often brought out the
best, the most sacrificial in men.
In the years to follow, I saw prisoners care for one
another as closest brothers. Friendships were forged in com-
mon suffering. I have often witnessed a starving man in
prison take his only daily ration of bread crumbs and give
them to another prisoner weaker than he,
God's presence surrounded me and strengthened me. It
filled me. I will never forget those ten days. Early on the
morning of the tenth day, I looked out of my cell window
toward the factory across the street. To my astonishment, I
■ the clear form of a cross on the rooftop of the factory! I
think probably the shadow of two big chimneys was formed
ihe sun lighting the chimneys in such a way as to cause a
to me. it was a sign from God. I stood at the cell
a long time . looking at the cross and thinking of the
lick Jesus died and of His love and goodness.
nee as real as any I have ever heard said, "My
i is your cross which you must bear. Prepare yourself
fc€ morr nflcnV|
Though I knew something terrible was about to happen,
the sign of that cross gave me a feeling of confidence in God
and, looking through the bars on the cell window, I started
singing a favorite hymn.
Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand.
The shadow of a mighty rock,
Within a weary land:
A home within the wilderness,
A rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat,
And the burden of the day.
With tears running down my cheeks I sang on,
I take O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place:
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame,
My glory all the cross.
I sang this song to the end, and my heart was filled with
sweetness. Tears poured down my face. They were not bitter
tears, but as we Christians in Bulgaria say, " sweet tears.**
As I finished the song, the door opened and I was led
downstairs for another period of torture. My ten days of quiet
communion with God were over. My biggest ordeal was now
here, with my "show trial*' coming up.
The Showdown Comes
My "show trial*' was already scheduled, dates set and I
had not yet been broken. The officers were now becoming
desperate, They had to break my will within a few days or
else. It was eight o'clock when I was led back down the
staircase with the wire netting, and again to the office of
Comrade Manoff, the chief interrogator. Though I walked as
if carried away by the effects of the great blessing I had
received. J in my body. My legs almost gave
rh me as I walked. The accumulated effect of what
I had been through had taken its toll. God's Word had been
accomplished in me: the body was weak, but the spirit was
I greeted Manoff politely, but he turned his head without
responding. There was another person in the room whom I
had never seen before. With a fierce shout he commanded me
to face the wall, so I placed myself once again in this familiar
position. It started all over again. Manoff had three inter-
rogators to assist him. I could tell this was the showdown.
The voices were fierce with hatred. They had evidently been
reprimanded for failing to break me and this time, they were
not going to fail. The oldest was the one who had ordered me
to face the wall. His name was Dimitri Avrahamoff. The
other two young men looked to be only in their early twen-
ties. The younger of the two was a young man whose eyes
were filled with consuming hatred. His face was physically
contorted with hatred toward me. How young, but already
how reduced to animal-like hatred and frenzy!
How this man needed Christ! I thought.
The three rotated every eight hours, while I stood facing
the wall again — without any sleep, keeping my eyes open,
just as I had done the fourteen days earlier. Yet, then I had
some reserve of strength. Now I had none. The "Death
Diet" had taken its toll.
After twelve o'clock the first night, the young man so
filled with hatred came on duty. He watched my every move,
noting if I shifted my feet to rest a little, or if I didn't stand at
attention. He scoffed and jeered at me. As I have already
mentioned, the hours after midnight are the most difficult for
a prisoner, for that is when the body demands sleep and one
has to fight to keep awake. No matter how much one tries to
keep awake, he dozes, even if he is standing, and falls. When
this would happen to me, the young man would silently steal
up behind me and hit me with a stinging blow to the side of
my head that left my ears ringing.
Immediately, following the blow, he kicked me in my
shins with his heavy boots with all his might. Once, after I
had fallen, I was commanded to hold my arms straight up.
After about ten minutes they became so tired they fell down.
With a loud curse he screamed for me to raise my arms again,
but I didn't have the strength to carry out his order. Another
blow. Another kick. He then ordered me to lean against the
wall on two fingers, which is still worse. These men know
every painful contortion the human body can be put into. The
last hours of the night were indescribably painful. It was still
only the first night, but at least I had succeeded in holding
With the new day came renewed strength. It is interest-
ing to note that one doesn't feel as tired during the day as he
does during the night. I learned much about the human body
and its endurance during these times.
The torture, beatings and vicious kicks continued dur-
ing the second, third, and fourth day. The side of my head
was swollen. My shins were in constant pain from the kick-
ing. I became weaker, receiving neither food nor water.
Again my hunger vanished and instead, there was the thirst I
had experienced before. The blood had again left my head
and gone to my legs, which had swollen to twice their normal
size. My face had shriveled, my beard had grown quite long,
my lips were cracked, blood ran down my beard again. I was
experiencing what had happened once before, but it was
more painful this time.
One day blurred into another. I passed out and often
collapsed. They revived me with a bucket of water and stood
me up again, raining blows and curses on me. I felt nothing
but fire, fire, burning fire from thirst and pain. Then God's
Word came to me in a flash ! "But all these things will they do
unto you for my name's sake . . . " (John 15:21). "Forunto
you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on
him, but also to suffer for his sake" (Philippians 1:29). For
His sake! For Christ's sake! This glorious thought renewed
my strength. My spirit began to talk with God, The most
difficult hours — the ones after midnight — came and went
and I didn't even know where the night had gone. Soon it was
the morning of the seventh day.
Manoff, the interrogation leader, came in again and
n t at all happy to see me looking so refreshed. It was now
the seventh day and he was waiting to see me break. The trial
was only a short time off and they were getting desperate. He
called out an order to Dimitri, who seized me from behind the
shoulders and shook me savagely. I felt the Spirit of the Lord
filling me again. Dimitri swung me around, clenched his fist,
then something happened to me.
I can't explain it to this day. At that moment every
muscle in my body became as hard as stone. The weakness of
a few moments before entirely disappeared. The effects of six
days and nights of starvation, standing, and blows, the curs-
ing and the three months of torture and starvation were
forgotten in a moment. My weakened, shrivelled body
straightened out. I came to my full height before Dimitri,
straight as a statue. Dimitri towered over me, for he was a
big, strong man. His first three blows landed squarely bet-
ween my eyes. My nose swelled and blood gushed forth, but
I felt no pain. My muscles were hard and my body rigid. I
neither swayed nor fell from weakness.
More blows followed but incredibly I felt no pain, the
front of my shirt was covered with blood. Dimitri hit me
cruelly. My face was a mass of pouring blood, open cuts and
swelling. But still I felt no pain! Instead, I felt a surging
power come over me and I held my face up to present Dimitri
with a better target. I moved toward Dimitri and he started
backing up. I followed him. My face was near him again. I
cried out, "Hit me! Then you will understand. Hit me! Hit
me!" Shaken and pale, Dimitri slowly turned and collapsed
heavily in a chair.
I had followed him across the room demanding that he
hit me, propelled by a force not my own. Now I stood over
him as he slumped in the chair. Suddenly, the supernatural
strength I had felt drained from me. I felt so weak I couldn't
stand. I collapsed and crumbled to the floor like a wet rag.
The incredible experience was over. I lay there as the room
was filled with silence and bewildered interrogators. Finally,
they hauled me up and shoved me against the wall. I leaned
against it weakly. I stood there all night.
The next day was November 7, the day I lost my will. I
remember falling as if someone had hit me over the head with
an iron bar. I began to have hallucinations. The room was
filled with snakes. They crawled on the floor, up the walls
and furniture, and came straight at me and slithered over all
my body. The knot-holes in the wall became faces — mad
faces laughing hysterically at me. I was on the verge of
madness. The snakes, the faces — all seemed to be swirling
around and around and I felt myself sinking down, down,
ever down. I had sunk to the edge of madness. Through
months of beatings, starvation and torture, I had fought the
good fight. I had stood more than a human body was meant to
stand. I came to the end of myself. "O God/' I cried. My
will was broken at last. They had won this time.
Under the influence of this psychological treatment and
physical torture a person is transformed into something like a
phonograph record, which speaks and sings whatever has
been cut on it. They fed us the words and like a machine we
repeated them. If they told me I had killed my own mother I
would have mechanically repeated, "Yes, I killed my
I was no longer human, but a human tape recorder. I had
been battered, beaten, brutalized, starved, until I was a
human robot. I was ready to confess anything. Having re-
duced me to dough, Dimitri began to knead me as he desired.
He seemed quite a specialist in this field. It wasn't the first
time he had succeeded in bending a prisoner to his will. He
said to me, "You are a spy of the first class."
"Yes," I replied.
"That's what I like about you. You are on the right
track. Sit down. We will wait until Manoff comes, then you
can go to your cell and rest. " I sat down on a chair. My head
swam with dizziness. From that moment, I believed and
knew that I was a spy. That is how all fourteen of us church
leaders became "spies."
In the morning, Manoflf came. He grinned from ear to
ear at the news. I was taken to my cell, given food, and left
alone to rest. I lay for a long time while my body and nervous
system quieted down, then I slipped into a deep sleep.
An elaborate series of "confessions" was prepared by
the communists for me to sign. I signed them. If they had*
ordered me to sign that God was dead I would have signed.
My own will had gone so far it would simply go no further.
On December 3 1 , at 4 p.m. , I was told to get my belongings
together. I had a mattress and blanket which I had received
from home after my will was broken, and I rolled them
together with my clothes and a few other things. Two guards
led me out to a car waiting outside. The day was bitterly cold.
On Sofia's streets, the trees and telephone poles were cov-
ered with a thick layer of frost. They looked so beautiful. We
drove down a number of streets, then found ourselves at the
back doors of Sofia's Central Prison.
The D.S. had finished their work. I had left the "White
They had "prepared" me for the trial.
The Wooden Shoe Song
"But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you,
and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and
into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my
name's sake. And it shall turn to you for a testimony" (Luke
21:12, 13). With these words, Jesus prepared His disciples
for what was going to come. During the whole history of
Christianity these words have been fulfilled over and over
and it still happens in our day. The Bulgarian evangelical
congregations experienced it to an especially great degree.
The "prison" in my case was a five-story building
surrounded by a big yard. Around the yard was a fifteen-
foot-high and three-foot-thick stone wall. In each of the four
corners of this fortress was a high tower in which a guard was
always on duty. The Central Prison is similar in construction
to all the other prisons in Bulgaria, but is larger than any
other. Built many years before the communists came to
power, it had more than 350 one-man cells, each containing a
bed, a table and a chair. Since the floor was made of cement,
the prisoners had to wear wooden shoes. In this prison, built
to accommodate 300 to 400 prisoners, there were now over
5,000! One whole section of the prison had been taken over
to accommodate the pastors and the witnesses, numbering
170 persons in all. After the trial, some were freed, others
sent to another prison, and still others were sent to concentra-
My cell was at the endof a corridor, next to a toilet. The
toilet was where the prisoners brought their buckets and
dumped them. My cell was like a cold storage plant, rather
than a place for a person to live. The floor was littered with
rubbish. I placed my straw mattress and blanket on the
cement floor and lay down on them. It was a cold day, and
though I wore every item of my clothing and wrapped myself
in my blanket, I could not sleep for the cold.
It was New Year's Eve and I paced the cell, wrapped in
my blanket, listening to the clacking of the prisoners'
wooden shoes on the cement floors. We called it the
"Wooden Shoe Song." It was caused by thousands of pris-
oners pacing back and forth trying to get warm. During the
thirteen years of my imprisonment I had only one pair of
leather shoes, but I can't begin to count how many pairs of
wooden shoes I wore out. Tonight, I was hearing the wooden
shoe song for the first time. I would hear its eerie sound many
Chilled to the bone on this dreadfully cold night, I and
the other 5,000 prisoners watched the New Year come in.
Later, Ruth told about her first visit to me. She said,
* 'Early in January, a prison guard came to me and explained
that I together with the children could visit my husband in the
prison. I hadn't seen my husband since he had been arrested
on July 24,
"At the prison, we were greeted by the superintendent
who was very friendly. Then we were taken to a waiting
room, and Haralan was led in by two guards. There we
greeted each other, while an official sat nearby to listen to our
conversation. My husband's legs, arms — his whole
body — were swollen to twice their normal size. I asked him
if he had been sick, since he was so enlarged. He glanced
around nervously and put his fingers to his lips, so I knew I
wasn't allowed to ask him. He then said aloud, 'My clothes
arc a little tight. If you could send me some larger pants, it
would be good.' The ten minutes of our visiting time were
soon up — it went much too fast. Then Haralan was led out
Seeing Ruth for the first time since my arrest, I asked
her, "You see what you got into marrying me. Perhaps it
would have been better for you to have remained in Sweden.
I have brought you only suffering."
Tears came into her eyes and she said, "No, my place is
After her visit I received good food to "fatten me up*'
back to my original weight and medical attention to repair the
physical damage. I must not show any signs of what I had
Broken, But Not Bowed
The courthouse in Sofia is the largest single building in
Bulgaria. How appropriate that it is so large, it gets much
use. It takes up a whole block in the central part of the city.
My trial took place in the most beautiful and important
courtroom in the courthouse — Courtroom 1 1 .
Microphones and movie cameras were installed on both
sides of the auditorium so that the proceedings could be
filmed. Journalists from foreign countries were among the
special guests, among them, The London Telegraph, The
New York Times and other great newspapers. This was to be a
history-making trial in which I and the other fourteen highest
church leaders of Bulgaria were to be tried at the same time.
Also present was the "Red Dean" of Canterbury, H.
Johnson, who was flown in especially for the trial.
Our relatives were given a special admittance card. The
hall, which held over 500 people, was packed. One by one
we were brought up from our basement cells with a police-
man on either side of us. We went to our seats without any
form of communication with one another. Nevertheless, we
couldn't help staring at one another when we saw the "well-
attired" pastors, each dressed in his own neat, well-pressed
suit. What a contrast to the filthy prison rags we had worn for
How did this happen? Two weeks before the hearing
began, we were told to write to our families and request our
dress shirts and well-pressed suits. They also were permitted
to send us as much food as they were able. Besides this, we
had been getting nourishing and fattening food from the
prison kitchen for the previous two weeks. All of this was to
insure there would be no trace of the suffering we had been
through, since we were to appear before the foreign press and
diplomatic officials. We were to look well-fed, well-clothed
and well-treated — communist deceit at work!
The court consisted of three judges, but they were only
puppets. The real decisions were in the hands of the DS
people sitting in the first row of the audience. The script had
already been written well in advance. The charges were read
by Bulgarians Chief Prosecuting Attorney who was assisted
by State's Attorney Tsakoff.
The first one on the stand was the Baptist pastor, Nick-
ola Michailoff . His hearing lasted six hours. He was the most
transformed and the one most ready to say what the com-
munists wanted him to say. Actually, Pastor Ziapkofif, who
was the leader of all the evangelical congregations in Bul-
garia, should have been. the first to take the stand, but evi-
dently the DS didn't quite trust him to humble himself.
Pastor Michailoff proved to be an * 'important witness"
against all the pastors, especially against Pastor Ziapkofif.
His testimony alone would have been sufficient to con-
demn us all to death, but because we had "confessed" we
were "reprieved" to serve prison terms, the intention being
to show communist "mercy,"
The second on the stand was' the Methodist leader,
Paster Janko Ivanoff . He repeated what the Baptist pastor had
said and confirmed his testimony in every respect.
The next day the newspapers were filled with the terrible
"confessions" of espionage by the pastors who had "sold"
Bulgaria to the English and Americans. According to the
papers, "the people" demanded the most severe penalties. It
was evident that everything in the newspapers came from the
DS. In fact, we later learned the articles had been written
weeks before! Early in the morning we were given copies of
the papers, so we would realize that our situation was hope-
less and there was nothing else for us to do but to confess,
repent and plead for clemency. Our confessions were written
out like sermons and we were told that, after we had read the
confessions, we were to begin moaning and crying in "re-
Only my brother, Ladin, had not yet been broken. He
had even refused to wear a necktie into court as a token of his
resistance. That night the British Broadcasting Company in
London broadcast that Ladin Popov was the only one of the
fifteen pastors charged with espionage who refused to con-
fess. They (the BBC) proclaimed him the hero of the trial and
he truly was. Ladin is physically very powerful and has been
able to withstand much of the torture. Being unmarried, he
did not have a wife or children to be concerned about. This
helped him mentally.
The trial was a tragic "black** comedy, written, pro-
duced and directed by the DS. We pastors had been beaten
and starved until we were like tape recorders. Before the
trial, we had been deprived of the two most important factors
in a human being's life — his will and his reason. In reality,
we were only tape recordings played by the DS people
— recordings which played back their will, wishes,
thoughts, and lies, Tape recordings reproduce only what has
been recorded on them.
According to communist teaching, the end justifies the
means. This allows communists to use lies, deliberate decep-
tion, murder, and every measure possible to reach their goal.
In our case, they had specific objectives.
First, the case against the nation's leading pastors was
designed to destroy the evangelical churches. Secondly, it
was to destroy the faithful pastors in one blow, so puppet
pastors could replace us. But, it was really Christ and His
teachings which were being judged when we pastors were
placed on the witness stand. Once more, the devil had false
witnesses and had found false accusations to get rid of Christ,
the Light of the World. He was tried before Pilate who took
his orders from Rome, mocked, sentenced to death, crucified
and laid in a sealed tomb. We were following in His
But regardless of how shrewd, clever and wicked the
devil was, he didn't succeed. The reason is found in Paul's
words to Timothy: "The word of God is not bound' ' (2
Timothy 2:9). God's Word cannot be destroyed. Sooner or
later, truth will be victorious. Just when the devil thought he
was victorious, Christ arose from the tomb. A lie is always a
lie. Neither Marxists nor Leninists will ever succeed in
building an earthly paradise upon a lie.
The witnesses for the prosecution were like the chief
priests who saw to it that Jesus would be sentenced to death.
The allegations made against us had no basis in fact, yet the
empty words and fabricated circumstances were repeated
time after time.
An engineer who worked in a marmalade factory tes-
tified that he had discussed with Pastor Ivanoff how the
marmalade was "vacuum packed." Later, the engineer
found some money in a book of his. The prosecuting attorney
asked him, "How do you think it got there? Don't you
believe that Pastor Ivanoff put it there as payment for the
information he got from you?" After some mumbling, the
witness said, "It is clear that he must have done it."
Such were the testimonies against us! The witnesses
didn't tell the truth. Their perjury, however, was involun-
tary. They said what they were forced to say and I felt no ill
will toward them.
The testimony continued for eight days; the whole trial
lasted twelve. It was engineered like a puppet theatre. The
strings were pulled and the puppets moved. After the hearing
of evidence the prosecuting attorney made a speech which
lasted for four hours, which contained more politics than
accusations. He described the international situation and said
that "international imperialism" tried to keep the workers
from fighting for their ideals. He said that through us, the
pastors, the imperialists were trying to demolish com-
When he had finished, his assistant delivered a tirade of
damnations, vilifying each of us personally. During the en-
tire hearing, both the prosecution and the defense pointed out
how wicked the crime was and called for the death penalty for
what they charged was espionage in politics, economic af-
fairs and matters of national defense. Neither the prosecution
nor the defense could give an example of anything we had
done to deserve such severe punishment. Our lawyers, who
were earning big money every day for "defending" us,
supported the prosecuting attorney's propaganda and con-
Only two of the defense attorneys dared to tell the truth.
One of them was not a communist; he was there because he
was one of the ablest and best- known lawyers in Sofia. In his
defense statement he said, "Your honor, these pastors have
been prosecuted as spies. Isn't it our duty to find out what
their espionage consists of?"
He continued: "Pastor Mishkoff had sketched a map
showing a road from Plovdiv to Pestera. According to the
prosecution, this map was passed on to the Americans. Are
the Americans so simple that they could not go to the nearest
book shop and buy a map of Bulgaria which shows not only
all the roads in the country but also the railroads? Such maps
are sold openly."
The prosecuting attorney leaped to his feet as if stung by
a bee. He bellowed, "Mr. Toumparoff, you have no right to
say that! Don't you know that today everything is secret in
Toumparoff immediately realized the seriousness of the
prosecutor's tone, and the implied threat so he changed his
tactics and adopted the same compliance used by the other
attorneys on both sides.
Pastor Vasil Ziapkoff, the leader of the evangelical
congregations, received the worst treatment. Despite his
innocence of the charges laid against him, his* lawyers ad-
vised him to confess, repent and ask for mercy, otherwise it
would be impossible to escape the death penalty.
When he testified on his own behalf, this man we knew
as a firm and solid servant of the Lord, cried profusely. He,
too, has passed through unspeakable sufferings. Everyone
looked at Pastor Ziapkoff in surprise. But it wasn't Pastor
Ziapkoff who spoke, it was a "tape recording" that played
back the song which had been composed by the DS . Even the
tone and sound of his voice wasn't his. After the court
hearing, we didn't see Pastor Ziapkoff for three years. His
torture had pushed him over the brink of insanity and it was
three full years before he recovered. Under the cir-
cumstances, timidity and fear gripped the churches — the
second plan of the DS was beginning to work.
One after another the leading Christian laymen were
called before the DS and sharply told they must renounce
their acquaintanceship and fellowship with their former pas-
tors. The newspapers began printing notices from members
or leading Christians in the different congregations saying,
' 'I express my disgust for the pastors' activities and renounce
my acquaintanceship with them."
As in Elijah's day a remnant refused to bow down to
Baal, and so there were those in the congregations who stood
by us. There were pastors who did not write renunciations in
the papers. However, one by one, these pastors were soon
ostracized and forced to leave the ministry. Some were even
sent to concentration camps. Others pushed brooms as street
sweepers in the very cities in which they had pastored. Many
of these faithful, ostracized pastors began "secret" meetings
in homes at great risk.
Soon communism came into the Church itself in the
form of the "New Pastors" appointed by the DS. Some of
the young people and the more active members were sent for
at night by the DS. They were beaten viciously during the
night in a way which left no marks . In the morning, they were
released and forced to promise to tell no one what had
happened — not even their wives.
One young Christian was summoned to the DS every
night for six months for nightly beatings. By various means
they tried to get him to promise to tell everything that hap-
pened in the congregation. He refused. His wife noticed
these nightiy absences and saw him return white and shaking
from his all-night beating sessions. He never told her of his
The same methods were used on many other young
Christians throughout the country. Fervent Christians and
active members were especially sought after by the DS
Many were not able to hold out, and bowed to the will of the
authorities perhaps in order to remain in the congregation.
Fear of being reported determined one's conduct. In many
cases, one knew who the informer was, but one never dared
to say it openly because the DS could reach anyone they
wanted. I am reminded of the prediction in the Bible that man
will be betrayed by his own relatives.
Many Christians in other countries can never under-
stand how shrewd and wicked are the powers of darkness.
This is because they have never sat alone in a prison cell,
completely helpless and hopeless. No matter how many
books are written about it, only those who have experienced
the ways and means that were used can ever comprehend
what Satan can devise to torture men.
On March 8, our sentences were announced. The
heaviest sentences fell on the leaders of the various
denominations — Pastor Vasil Ziapkoff, the religious rep-
resentative of United Evangelical Churches, Pastor Janko
Ivanoff, Assistant Representative of the United Evangelical
Churches, Pastor Georgi Cherneff, Assistant Chairman of
the United Evangelical Churches, Nickola Michailoff,
Chairman of the United Evangelical Churches. Each was
sentenced to life imprisonment and confiscation of all his
property by the State. Their families were left with nothing
but the clothes on their backs.
The other pastors and I, members of the Supreme Coun-
cil of the United Evangelical Churches, were sentenced to
fifteen years imprisonment.
Pastors Jontso Drenoff, Zakari Raieheff and Ivan
Angeloff were each sentenced to ten years imprisonment.
Pastor Mitko Matteff received six years and eight
months imprisonment; Ladin, my brother, was given five
years imprisonment. (He had never broken so they found
another trumped-up charge for him.) Pastor Angel Dinoff
and Pastor Alexander GeorgiefT were both released on proba-
tion. Angel Dinoff was immediately selected by the com-
munists to be the president of the Evangelical Congregations.
During the whole time of his arrest, it seemed that he was
being prepared by the DS for this task.
The communists knew an outward attack on the
churches would unite and strengthen the believers, as it has
done down through Christian history. So they decided to
destroy or control it from within. The communists had found
him a willing instrument. To this day the communist tactic is
to close some churches and install their own men in those that
The Tragic Suffering of Our Families
After the trial, we were returned to the prison, to disap-
pear from public view. But now it was our families as well as
ourselves who suffered. Persecution came not only from the
enemies of the cross, but also from the newly-installed "pas-
tors." The people were warned that anyone trying to assist
the arrested pastors or their destitute families would be sent to
a concentration camp.
One of the pastors from northern Bulgaria collected a
little money which he sent to Ruth and Pastor Cherneffs
wife. He was accosted in the street, grabbed by the collar and
asked savagely, "Who gave you permission to collect money
for the arrested pastors* families?" The old brother lifted his
hand toward heaven and said, "God."
Once Ruth was down to her last penny. Paul and Rhoda
were crying from hunger. She fell to her knees and prayed,
'God, we have no food. We have no money. Haralan is in
prison. God, I am at the end of myself. Help us."
A little later that very day a letter arrived from the
above-mentioned old brother, enclosing a postal money
order for enough to pull her through the emergency!
Later Ruth, Paul and Rhoda were ordered out of the
house we lived in. This intense suffering of families of
Christian prisoners was carefully planned to increase the
agony of the men imprisoned.
Ruth was concerned that her family in Sweden know the
truth about our trial. Due to the poor postal services, we
hadn't received a letter from them for some time and didn't
know whether her letters had reached them. Then one day she
was consoled in an unexpected way. An ordinary postcard
arrived from a relative. It read, "We have heard, we have
read, and we understand the whole thing."
The fear of the communists went so far that the New
Pastors requested their members to find out who had dared
help Ruth and my children. The family of Pastor ChernefT
had been forced to move to Svistov, a little town near the
Danube. One day, Mrs. Cherneff was in Sofia on an errand
and in the evening she went to a meeting in the church where
her husband had served for twenty years. Although it was
raining hard, and everyone knew Mrs. Cherneff well, the
informers were present so no one could invite her to stay
overnight. So Mrs. Cherneff walked the streets all night.
At first, Ruth had a job. It was ironic. She was to clean
Angel Dinoff's church every other day. She also received a
small monthly salary for playing the organ at services. It
wasn't long though before Dinoff was warned by the au-
thorities that in this way he was helping the imprisoned
pastors' families, so he made it clear to my wife that she was
no longer needed.
Then a sister in the congregation, who was sick, asked
my wife to take her place at work. This was how my wife
found a job as a night cleaning woman. She kept that job for a
whole year before her employers found out she was Haralan
Popov's wife. She was immediately dismissed.
Ruth struggled every day to keep our children fed. It
was a lonely, desperate struggle to stay alive. Later, I learned
that even our Christian brothers in the free world did nothing
to help us. It is a shame on the conscience of the Christians of
the free world that thousands of Christian families are suffer-
ing like this now — alone and unaided — in communist
Ruth had not a penny of support. She and the children
survived on a few carrots slipped to them by a courageous
Christian who defied the New Pastors' warnings. It was a
dangerous, precarious existence for Ruth and the children.
The communists always cause the families of imprisoned
Christians to suffer at least as much as the prisoners them-
selves. This is to increase the mental suffering and burden of
One cannot describe the agony of a father or husband
locked helplessly behind bars knowing his wife and children
are at that moment almost starving, driven from town to town
like rootless animals. It is a burden far worse than starvation
for man to bear.
I have seen strong men who could take almost any
physical beating go mad knowing what their wives and
children were suffering — and being unable to help.
This is the tragedy of our fellow Christians who are
imprisoned in communist lands today.
"You're a Dead Man, Haralan Popov!"
After we had been sentenced, we were sent back to the
Central Prison and put in small cells. For a time the food and
conditions were improved. In the cell with me were Pastors
Cherneff, Angeloff, and Matter!. Ladin, my brother, was
also with us for a short time but he was quickly transferred
elsewhere. This was the first time we had all been together
since our arrests, and we began talking about what had
happened and what we had been through. We were now
slowly coming out of this state of being semi-robots and
human tape recorders, and were regaining our senses.
As we did, I said to the pastors with me, "We have
faced not men, but Satan himself. Though he has done his
work well, I for one am more determined than ever that in the
end God will triumph. Brethren remember, 'He that is in you
is greater than he that is in the world.' They have won the
battle, but with God's help we will win the war.*'
Pastor Angeloff replied, "Haralan, that is true. If God
be for us, who can be against us?"
One day I was taken to a little office where one of the
crudest members of the DS , Comrade Aneflf, was waiting for
me. Standing beside him was a man I had not seen before. He
was dark and thin, with extremely fierce eyes and the features
of a drunkard. Almost immediately, he jumped on me and
began to beat me all over my body. I fell under the rain of
blows, while on the floor he kicked me with all his might and
screamed horrible obscenities. He screamed,- "Popov, we
know you! You've been trying to start a plot with the other
pastors. We're going to teach you who will triumph over
whom!" He ordered me taken to the dampest cell in the
prison. As I was led out he screamed, "You're going to rot
down there by yourself! You'll never see the light of day
again! You're a dead man, Haralan Popov!"
Two guards led me down to the basement floor of the
prison. There, at the end, was a heavy metal door, rusty from
the dampness. As I was pushed through it I saw another flight
of stairs going almost straight down like a ladder. I de-
scended the steep steps into the cold dark dampness. The
only light now was from the guards' flashlights. I felt as
though I were descending into the very pits of hell itself. I
waited at the bottom of the steps as the guards made their way
down the steep stairs. It was inhumanly cold with an un-
earthly blackness, blacker than I have ever seen before.
The guards took me by each arm, led me down a narrow
walkway to a cell door. Opening it, they roughly shoved me
in and locked it. I heard their footsteps leave, going back up
the stairs to the world above.
It was deathly quiet and totally black. I couldn't see my
hand in front of my face. I felt around like a blind man, found
the tin drinking cup and tapped on the walls, but I got no reply
from either side of my cell. I was all alone down here in the
black bowels of the earth. Then the enraged communist's
words struck me, "You'll never see the light of day
again. . . . You're going to rot down there!"
I resigned myself to being forgotten down here in this
deep, forgotten crevice far below even the lowest level, left
to rot. And it wouldn't be long before a man would rot here. I
felt the walls and they were wet with moisture dripping
down. Deep in this forgotten cell so unbelievably dark, I got
on my knees and prayed, "God, I know there is no cell deep
enough, no iron bars strong enough to separate me from You.
God, be with me. Give me strength."
The floor of the cell was so wet from subterranean
underground moisture I couldn't lie down. I felt my way
around, over to the corner and huddled down there with my
arms wrapped around me for warmth and went to sleep. I
don't know when I awoke. In such absolute darkness one
loses all track of time. It is like being suspended in another
world. I tried to measure time in my mind, but it began
playing tricks on me. Without some usual references, stars,
daylight, shadows — something — a man loses all sense of
measuring time. Even the blind have braille clocks, or other
means. Imprisoned in that absolute vacuum of black space I
For the first time in over a year I began to fear for my
sanity. Had I been here for a day? or 20 days? For an hour, or
for a week?
Only occasionally would I hear a voice, an iron grate
would open and a metal plate be scooted on the floor with a
little water and three or four carrots or a rotten potato with
worms in it.
I now resigned myself to spending the rest of my life
here. Mentally, I had accepted it. One day while I was
praying, the hopelessness of my situation struck me full
force. Starved, beaten, forgotten here, I knew there was no
hope of ever getting out. It was a high-ranking officer who
told me I would "rot" here and he meant business. Tears
came to my eyes. For weeks I had been like this. "Oh,
God," I cried.
Then something happened which has never happened
before or since. A light glow began to shine and a warming
sensation filled the cell and enveloped my weakened, starved
frame. I felt strong arms around me, cradling me in the arms
of Christ Himself. That same voice which I had heard when I
had stood at the wall for two weeks spoke again. I can never
describe that voice. Overwrought with love and compassion,
Christ spoke to me saying, "My son, I shall never forsake
you. My arms are around you and in them I shall comfort you
and give you strength."
Tears flowed down my cheeks as I was held in the
embrace of Christ. I know some readers may think this
extreme, but when I was at the point of madness and despair,
Christ let me know He had not forgotten me there huddled in
the blackness of a forgotten cell in the bowels of the earth. It
was a beautiful loving embrace and a moment that made all
the suffering worthwhile. How I love Him! If all men in the
world could only know this Christ in His beauty and love!
Now I was with Christ and content to wait for death to be
with Him. He talked with me, comforted me and His pres-
ence filled the cell in an almost physical way. He held my
hand in His nail-pierced hand. He knew suffering and shared
the suffering of His children.
Those were precious, precious days. I communed with
Christ as, getting weaker and weaker, I waited for death.
Then at some time much later, I heard noises of
footsteps and men talking. My cell door was flung open and a
brilliant flashlight shone in my face. " Popov, get out of
there! You're coming with us!" a voice shouted. I could
hardly move from having stayed in one position for so long.
They half carried me and half dragged me out, pushing me up
the stairs. When 1 saw even the dim light of the basement
cells, my eyes rebelled against the brightness, being accus-
tomed to total darkness.
Finally, I was back in the cell block where I had been
before. Thrown in a cell, I asked the prisoner inside what the
date was. I had been down there for 35 days and would never
have gotten out, but the officer who ordered me there "to
rot" had been transferred. Evidently God still had a purpose
for me in this life.
Later, in the corridor, I met a little hunched-over man.
He was Pastor Ivan Angeloff, who had gone through the
same treatment as I. Pastor Angeloff and I were taken to the
eighth department of the prison and put in an empty cell. We
found some boards with which to make beds so that at least
we no longer had to sleep on the cement floor. The very first
night, the inevitable bedbugs were waiting for us. Attacking
in swarms, they fell from the ceiling like raindrops. They
swarmed over everything, especially us. Evidently we were
the first prisoners in this cell in a long while, and the bugs had
missed their meals. We could never sleep under such cir-
cumstances, so we spent the night pacing the cell, killing
bedbugs. We got a little sleep during the day when the
bedbugs were not active. At night we took turns sleeping.
While Pastor AngelorT slept, I stood "sentry" duty killing
the bugs and keeping them off him. When I slept, he did the
same. By the third night, the number of bedbugs had been
considerably reduced, but the walls of the cell were deco-
rated with red spots, which soon turned black.
In the middle of June we were moved to a large three-
cornered cell which contained twenty other pastors — some
from another trial which took place after ours. Our trial was
only the start of the war to wipe out support of the churches.
Now, for the first time, we were allowed a short walk outside
every day. It was great to breathe fresh air again and see the
blue sky and sunshine. I felt like a new man, even though I
was still surrounded by prison walls. One day, I noticed a
tiny, green blade of grass growing through a crack in the
cement. As our guard looked elsewhere, I quickly bent down
and picked it. You can't imagine what that tiny blade of grass
meant to me . It was green and living . It was the first contact I
had had with the outside for nearly a year. To hold that little
blade of God's grass caused my spirits to soar.
Some days later, the superintendent of the prison visited
our cell. He looked cheerful and informed us that we all
would be given work to do — but first we had to become
members of the "Cultural Society" in the prison.
The Cultural Society was a circle started by the Secret
Police — the DS. In every prison, the DS set out to indoctri-
nate the prisoners. Actually, the Society was designed to
' ' brainwash' ' us and to supply the DS with information about
all the prisoners. The only thing that concerned them was the
attitude of each prisoner toward the regime. The prisoners
were also "trained" in the circle. At the end of the training,
they were graded either "intractable" or "reformed."
Classified As Unreformed
The Cultural Society developed into a strong organiza-
tion with reports, choral songs, theatre performances and
courses (for example, on Marxism, Leninism, the cultivation
of vineyards or agriculture). The most important courses
were on communism. No matter what the course, the lectur-
ers always managed to bring m a good deal about com-
munism's two main figures, Marx and Lenin. Capitalism
was condemned: it was intolerable and must be annihilated.
Communism, however, was the greatest and most humane
political system there was! Of course, all of this was so crazy
and untrue that the lecturer himself didn't believe it. His
bored, listless and empty words made him like a record
player. The same words, the same sentences, the same ex-
pressions, the same reports were repeated over and over. It
was sickening, but we had to endure it.
In the beginning, we didn't realize the purpose of the
Cultural Society. When we did realize its objectives, there
was no way to escape it.
Let me point out again the difference between breaking
our will and "brainwashing" us. My will was broken after
six months of being beaten into helplessness, until my human
body reached its very limits and physically crumbled. It was
Brainwashing is "permanently" convincing someone
communism is good. They could break my will, but they
could never "brainwash" me! During the time they tried to
"convert" and brainwash me, I was given work as a book-
printer and type-setter. The other pastors worked in a
Within two months, the prison authorities realized that I
could not be "brainwashed" and gave up on me. I had
failed the course' ' and was marked for a hard-labor prison.
On December 1, my turn came. I was working in the
printing shop when I was told to pack my things and take
them to the auditorium. I had a mattress, a blanket, two
quilts, a pillow, a suitcase containing my underwear, and a
basket of food. They gave us plenty during their attempts to
brainwash us. That was the only good thing about the
In the auditorium, I found thirty other prisoners waiting
further orders. Evidendy , we had been given up as hopeless.
Now the rough treatment would start again, as it was before
our trial. In the evening, a covered truck arrived and we were
ordered to get in, with our luggage. There was no window in
the back of the truck so we had no idea where we were going .
When the truck stopped we found ourselves at the Sofia
railway station. We were locked in a small room which was
cramped with the thirty of us, but we sat on the floor and tried
Next morning we were put on a train for our new
destination, Sliven. There are two prisons in Sliven, the "old
prison" in the city proper and the "new prison," where we
were taken, half a mile from the station. The prison was a
large, five-story building which originally had been a maca-
roni factory. It was surrounded by a fifteen-foot-high wall,
with a watchtower at each corner. It was dark when we
arrived. We were taken to Department Eight which, as in all
prisons, is the worst.
Because the building was not originally a prison, the
cells were a little larger than the one-man cells at Sofia's
Central Prison. Ours measured fifteen by six feet, but there
were fifteen of us in it, and a place had to be found for the
ever-present bucket, so it was more cramped than anywhere
else we had been.
We were packed in like sardines in a can. The first thing
we did was to measure the walls, then we marked off a
sleeping space a foot wide for each man. Among the prison-
ers was a famous Bulgarian poet, Trifon Konieff. He was a
wonderful, jovial man. We all liked him very much. Trifon
was so big that he could not possibly sleep in a foot-wide
space, so each of us gave up one inch of his space, so that
Trifon could have a little extra. We carefully measured it off.
This gave us a space exactly eleven inches wide. Because
there was no floor space for our luggage, our bags and boxes
were hung up on nails driven into the walls. All the other cells
were the same.
At night, we all slept on the same side. If anyone wanted
to turn over, we all had to turn at the same time, in unison.
During the day, we sat in our little spaces. This enforced
idleness gave a wonderful opportunity to talk to the men
about God. They were almost all eager to know more.
The only window in the cell was in the ceiling. Even
though it was always open, the air was hot and stuffy. It was
summer and the ceD was packed with sweating, perspiring
men in one hundred degree heat. We wore only undershorts,
and still the perspiration poured from us. The only relief was
our half-hour walk in the prison yard once a day.
It was awful to have to return to the humid, stuffy cell
after our brief respite outside, but no one resisted. I never
learned if the Sliven prison was a "discipline" prison, but
the treatment was much tougher than in the other prisons.
Now that I had been labelled "unreformed/' the other pris-
oners and I were back on the "Death Diet.** We received
only the scanty ten ounces of bread, plus soup which tasted
even worse than the other soup we had had. It was like eating
There is nothing more frightening than prison imsom-
nia. In the stillness of the searing hot night, one could hear
the sounds of the prison.
There was the uneven breathing of the prisoners packed
up against one another. It was easy to tell which men were
having prison nightmares through the uneven breathing.
Who could know what crushed dreams were theirs?
There was the measured creak of the corridor floor
caused by the guards' felt shoes as they walked back and
forth. From time to time a padlock ground open and there
were footsteps and whispers. Someone was being taken for
interrogation or a beating.
As I lay awake pressed in my eleven inch space on a
floor full of sleeping bodies, my mind often went to Ruth,
Rhoda and little Paul. Where were they? What had happened
to them? Ruth's worn haggard face that time we met before
the trial haunted me. Were they hungry even now as I lay
here? Did they have a shelter over their heads? Worst of all, I
could do nothing to help them. I had been separated from
them nearly two years and it seemed like an eternity. Thirteen
more years of separation loomed ahead!
"O God," I prayed in the stillness of the sleepless
night, "what will happen to them? Keep them, protect them,
help them." These nights filled with prison insomnia were
the worst. Over and over, I would close my eyes and not see.
I would cover my ears and not hear, but I couldn't turn off my
Someone in a nearby cell, packed as tightly as ours,
would groan. What were his nightmares, fears and destroyed
dreams? Stifling hot and smelling of the bucket and the sweat
of unwashed bodies, its silence threaded with the groans and
cries of sleeping men, the air was heavy with despair. One
could only hear the sounds of men who had lost ail and whose
hopes were that the night would never end, for sleep offered
the only escape from reality.
In Sliven, and in the years to come, the nights were
always the worst. Nighttime was a favorite time for the
beatings and torture. The worst hours were from eleven to 3
a.m. One whole floor of one wing was given over to interro-
gation at night and no doubt equipped with the latest "inter-
rogation equipment. ' *
Over the screams of the tortured came the shouts and
curses of the torturers. Often, I tried putting cotton in my ears
to drown out the horrible cacophony of distant screams. The
nights were when men had time to think, to remember what
might have been. It was at night that many men went mad. I
could hear their ravings as the mind snapped, refusing to
work any longer, and the guards would come and take them
away. Those were the sounds of a prison at night.
I especially tried to help men through these trying
nights, and helping them helped me.
Soon time came for the DS to classify us. Class One
consisted of political prisoners, pastors, priests and such.
Class Two, the criminals, murderers, rapists. Then, each
class was divided into three categories. The very worst
"criminals" were Class One, Category One. That's where I
was put. We were singled out for the worst of treatment.
Each year we were classified. To be transferred to a better
class, one had to be more inclined toward the new regime.
During the whole of my prison term, I was kept in Class One,
Category One. Evidently they gave up on reforming me, but
it still seemed strange being officially labelled more danger-
ous than a multiple-murderer.
But I could see the communists' point. My faith and
witness were more dangerous to them. They are not ignorant
men. They recognise faith in God is their worst enemy. For
13 years I had to sit through lectures on Marxism and com-
munism. I never "graduated," but stayed in the same class. I
left prison an illiterate on this subject. It seems I just couldn't
learn how one builds a communist society.
There was a large group of men who just gave up, and
agreed with everything. They were not only transferred to a
better class, but were released from prison much earlier than
the others. They had been "reformed" and were considered
Sometime afterward, a large group of political and
religious prisoners in Sliven, myself among them, was or-
dered to pack. Altogether we were about two hundred and
eighty persons. We were taken to the station and put into
three freight cars, while our baggage was put in an open
We were taken to the nearest railway junction and we
wondered in which direction we would be heading. On the
open car which carried our luggage stood a brakeman , whom
I recognized as an old acquaintance. Surreptitiously, I sig-
nalled to him, asking him if he knew where we were to be
taken. He replied by marking the frost on a window pane with
the letter "k." Then I knew that we were on our way to
Kolarovgrad Prison had just been built and in some
places, it was not quite finished. They had not only one-man
cells, but two-man cells also. The windows were larger than
usual, and there were boards on the floors. We were told that
this prison was intended for political prisoners who were
discipline problems, and that the treatment would be particu-
larly severe, so we were expecting brutality. But the officials
turned out to be more humane than those at Sliven. They
must have ignored their orders and ruled the prison them-
We were located in the north wing. Our cells were clean
and well ventilated, and everything was completely new.
The only bedbugs were those that came in with our luggage.
(Which were plenty!) Our cell was made to hold twelve
persons and there were only eight in it, so for the first time
since being imprisoned we had a good place. Our food ration
still consisted of half a loaf of bread daily, but the soup was
simply delicious. Though we could never say we were full,
we didn't have the hunger pangs we had in Siiven.
Some of my fellow-prisoners had been high ranking
officers. One of them had attended an American school in
Sofia and could speak English very well. Others could speak
it a little, so all the prisoners in our cell began learning
English. I ministered to them as their ''prison Pastor/ 1 I
taught them a beautiful hymn which we all sang in English. It
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
After a year of horror in Sofia and Siiven, the stay for us there
was a beautiful testimony to the wonderful grace of the Lord.
It was like a new life, though I knew it would be short-lived.
During October, we were allowed to see our loved ones
for the first and only time that year. Ruth came with our little
son Paul, who was just at the age when children are minus
their front teeth . I noticed immediately that Ruth had lost a lot
of weight. She told me she was at that time working as a
charwoman for the newspaper Trud ("Work"). To my sur-
prise, through the double iron grating between us, I was
allowed to hold little Paul in my arms. Their visit was a tonic
A Gift From God
Shortly after this visit, I received all my underclothes
and shirts through the mail. I was greatly disturbed. When
this happens, it usually means that a man's wife had died. It
struck horror to ail prisoners, when it happened to them. I
wasn't allowed to write or receive more than one letter every
three months, so I wasn't able to find out the conditions at
home. For three months I never knew from one moment to
the next if Ruth were dead. I was in terrible torment. If Ruth
were dead, what about Paul and Rhoda? My fellow prisoners
tried to console me and convince me that there was some
other reason, but my despair grew greater. The thought that
there was no one to take care of my children, who were still
very young, nearly drove me out of my mind.
I prayed for grace and left the matter with Him . The next
morning, carrying the bucket to the toilet, a fellow prisoner
named Dragan came up to me. He whispered, "Haralan,
your wife and children have gone to Sweden." Dragan
worked in the prison office and was in a position to learn of
things outside the prison, but he had run a big risk in telling
me news of happenings outside. He would not tell me more
than that bare piece of information and it took me some time
to find out the whole story.
It seems mat the cashier in the office, who was not a
communist, knew the pastor in Kolarovgrad. The pastor told
the cashier that Ruth and the children had managed to get
safely to Sweden and asked him to pass on the news to me.
The cashier was not allowed any contact with the prisoners,
so he passed the message to Dragan whose work allowed him
occasional contact with us. Several days after Dragan had
told me the news, I received a letter from Sweden from my
twelve-year-old daughter, which said, "With God's help we
have come to Sweden and are now in Stockholm."
I had never known such ecstatic joy in my life! My wife
and children were delivered — saved from further persecu-
tion and poverty. The long hand of the DS couldn't reach
them in Sweden. The heavy burden which depresses and kills
many prisoners — the cares and troubles of their
families — had fallen from my shoulders. How I thanked
God! The whole cell-block rejoiced with me! Even non-
Christian prisoners were caught up in my joy of all joys and
said, "Thank God" with me. They shared my happiness. I
knew I would almost certainly never see my loved ones
again, but at least they were safe.
I cannot begin to convey what this meant to me. The
remaining years in prison were easier to endure. I was no
longer afraid of the communists. They had me, but they
could not touch my family! Ruth, Paul and Rhoda were free.
With this great, crushing load off my shoulders, I determined
to enlarge my ministry as prison pastor. What could they do
to me? My wife and children were free. They could torture
me, but they couldn't touch my one really vulnerable
spot — my wife and children ! Much suffering and torture lay
ahead because of my witness for Christ in prison, but no
longer was I a prisoner. Surely, there were walls and bars
around me, but no one could take away the inner freedom
Later, I learned it was the intervention of the Swedish
government on my wife's behalf that secured her freedom.
She was a Swedish subject married to a Bulgarian. Only this
saved Ruth and the children.
This news was the turning point for me. It was the
greatest gift God could have given me. The last restraint, the
fear of bringing suffering to Ruth and the children, was lifted
from me. Now I would teach, preach, witness and work for
Christ in every prison they put me in. They had lost their hold
on me. They had a "different" Haralan Popov now!
Shortly after this wonderful news, I along with four
hundred other prisoners were ordered to Persin, an island
prison in the Danube River, for hard-labor work. We were
pushed into box cars so crowded that we had to stand the
whole trip. In the evening, we started on our way to Belene,
the railroad station nearest the island. The officer in charge
was so afraid of our possible escape that he insisted on
closing even the air vents of the freight cars at night! We
covered about fifty miles during the night and were then
shunted into a siding where we stayed until late afternoon.
The day was very hot — over one hundred degrees
inside the crowded box car. Men panicked and beat on the
sides of the box car begging for air, for water, but no one
would help us. Men began collapsing from heat and thirst.
We were packed so tightly, when a man collapsed, he
couldn't fall to the floor. There was no room. He remained
upright, though unconscious. The heat must have risen in the
afternoon to well over one hundred ten degrees, all in an
airless box car.
Finally, as a result of our yelling and knocking, the
officer allowed the doors to be opened a crack to allow our
water bottles to be passed out for filling . We covered a further
thirty miles during the night. The next day, it was the same
story. We sat on a rail siding from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. in horrible
heat, thirst and exhaustion — always standing.
At the end of the second day we were parked in a siding
only six miles from Belene. In the heat more of the prisoners
lost consciousness. When this happened, the officer finally
allowed the doors to be opened and the unconscious men
were carried out and laid on the grass. After they had been
given artificial respiration, they regained consciousness.
This incident caused the officer to allow the doors to be left
open a few inches, and when the sun went down, our journey
continued. It was dark when we arrived at Belene station, and
we found armed soldiers everywhere. We took our baggage
and then marched across the fields to the river, escorted by
the soldiers. Bent under the weight of our baggage, we could
barely hold out, but anyone who fell soon scrambled to his
feet again to avoid being trampled by those marching behind.
Wet with perspiration, we finally reached the prison's
administration building which was surrounded with barbed
wire, and marched in.
Persin — An Island of Horror
"I . . . was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the
word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ' ' (Revela-
Belene is a village of eight thousand people situated on
the Danube River which forms the northern border between
Bulgaria and Romania. The prison administration building
lay right on the banks of the river. Many of the personnel
lived there. Four hundred yards off-shore lies the island of
Persin, pear shaped and about six miles long and two or three
miles wide. The main island is flanked by two smaller is-
lands: Sturez, measuring about four hundred yards across at
its widest point accommodated a women's prison camp;
Berzina, the other island, was the smallest of the three.
The western part of Persin and the coastline on the north
and south were higher than the center part, which contained
several lakes. The highest part of the island was in the east.
The whole colony was divided into five different bar-
racks. Ours was about a mile from the administration build-
ing. The prison barracks were low huts made of willow
branches braided together and daubed with a thick layer of
clay. The roofs were made of dried sunflower stalks and
straw Each barracks housed five to seven hundred prisoners,
and all but one were built on the ground. The other was on a
" plateau" two or three yards high.
About four and one half miles away on a hill at the
eastern end of the island was Barracks Number Two.
Number Three was between the first two and had barns and a
farmyard. The prisoners who were trusted by the authorities
tended the cows and sheep there.
Barracks Number Four was the women's camp on the
island of Sturez. It was on high ground and well built. In the
summer of 1952, about one hundred and fifty women lived
there and took care of the pigs. The fifth barracks was in the
village of Belene and was for the criminal prisoners.
It was dark when we arrived at the administration build-
ing and climbed onto big rafts which were towed to the prison
island behind a motor boat. During the following summer a
pontoon bridge was built, which speeded up transport be-
tween the mainland and the prison island.
When we reached the prison island, our spirits lifted.
For the first time, we had no guards behind us, no revolvers at
our heads. I drank in the fresh night air and lifted my eyes to
the starlit heavens. My thoughts went back to the days when I
was free. It seemed like another world. When I reached the
barracks I lay down on the floor and slept.
Our first day on the island was spent getting settled. We
saw that there were towers placed a mile apart all over the
island, where guards were stationed. A one-hundred yard
strip along the coast was forbidden territory and anyone
found there was immediately shot.
We soon learned Persin was a camp of extreme hard
labor. Of the six thousand prisoners there, only a few
hundred survived. The next day we were divided into
forced-labor battalions. It was harvest time and those who
had come before us had already cut the forage crop. Our task
was to harvest and thresh it. Each of us had to harvest eight
hundred square yards a day, though few of us had ever done
any threshing before in our lives. The first day I was
exhausted. I worked fifteen hours straight but still couldn't
fulfill the quota. After returning to our barracks at nine
o'clock we had to stand at attention while the foreman lec-
tured us for not completing the work. The lecture lasted two
hours more. Late that night we finally got to sleep, only to be
awakened again at 3 a.m. to begin another day's work. We
worked from 3 a.m. to 9 p.m. — 18 hours a day. Every
muscle in my body ached.
In the marshland, masses of mosquitoes hatched during
the summer. They descended on us in dark clouds and stung
us like wasps. The prison leaders were displeased because we
were not completing the production schedule and ordered our
food ration to be reduced. This started a vicious cycle. Our
reduced food rations weakened us more and caused us to
harvest less. Then, in punishment, our rations were cut still
again. Many died all around me through overwork and too
little food. It was a desperate struggle to work — or less
food. Less food meant less work still, and in turn, even less
food. Then death. We shared our food with the dying, but
many died anyway. Guards moved among us in the field
beating any who were not working fast enough.
One night, two prisoners escaped and made it across the
border to the free world. Several days later, two more es-
caped, but they were caught near the border of Greece and
brought back. The bravery of these four made it harder for the
rest of the prisoners . The guards were cruel and never needed
to answer to the authorities if someone was shot. To frighten
the prisoners and prevent them from escaping, they often
simply killed a prisoner at random. We never knew who
would be next. Just on impulse, a guard would single out a
prisoner working in our midst, walk over to him, put his rifle
to his head and pull the trigger. This happened several times
close to me and once to a dear friend of mine.
Once, a guard was walking toward me and had his rifle
pointed at my head and was actually squeezing the trigger
when another guard called his name, distracting him. He
walked of! and didn't return.
When we finished the threshing, several weeks behind
schedule, they put us to digging the field. Each prisoner was
ordered to dig up 1 , 120 square yards of weeds a day. With a
plough we could have possibly done it, but it was impossible
for us to meet our quota of 1 , 1 20 square yards of weeds with a
handheld hoe. The heat of late July dried out the ground and
water holes with the result that drinking water became
scarce. The heat beat down on us unmercifully.
After we had finished with the corn, we began in the
sunflower fields. The field we worked was three or four miles
from the barracks and each morning and evening we marched
the distance with guards on both sides of us. Since the whole
work schedule of the island was behind due to the poor
condition of the prisoners, the prison director became
alarmed and ordered a speed-up of the work. Instead of
marching to the field, we were ordered to run three to four
miles with guards on horseback chasing us and cracking long
leather whips on our backs. We staggered into the fields
almost too exhausted to move. In the evening we were chased
back to the barracks by the guards on horseback. They took
great joy in beating the half -dead, staggering line of prison-
ers. And woe betide any man who fell. The guards set upon
him with a fury of lashing until ribbons of flesh dangled from
his back, face and arms.
This continued until the sunflower crop was harvested.
It was a very expensive crop in terms of human suffering!
Again, it shows the low value put on life when men look upon
mankind as only "matter," with no soul. One day during our
work among the sunflowers, a little rabbit came hopping by.
We were starved and like skeletons, we thought only of one
thing: to pull up a blade of grass to eat. And here comes a
rabbit! The prisoners all surrounded him and one killed it and
hid it to take back to the barracks at night. We were eating the
"Death Diet" and also working.
In the evening three guards rode up to our work area and
ordered the one who had killed the rabbit to confess. No one
did. When the guard realized that no one was going to
confess, he ordered us back to the barracks at a fast run. By
the time we managed to get through the lashings and reach
the barracks, an informer must have told the foreman who
had killed the rabbit, for the unfortunate man was called
forth. He was about 55 years of age and very thin.
They started beating him savagely with a thick club. I
have seen — and been the victim of — terrible beatings, but
this poor man was beaten so horribly I couldn't stand to look
at him or listen to his screams. His screaming was horrifying,
piercing, almost incredible. It filled all space. Compared to
his, the cries of a woman in labor were a cheerful sound.
He was beaten until one of his eyes dangled out of his
head. I have never seen such cruel and meaningless treatment
in my life. The prison guards continued beating the old man
on the head, groin, arms, legs and back until he was uncon-
scious. We could do nothing but stand there and try to contain
our feelings. Some prisoners wept with rage and frustration.
All this because a starving man tried to get extra food.
Again, I remind my readers, when man is without God
there is no limit to his depravity or to the depths to which he
will sink. These guards descended the ladder of humanity
step by step until they had no humanity or kindness left. I
fought to contain my anger at seeing this brutal beating . I told
myself the sick guards were to be pitied, but I confess this
was one time I had to struggle to control my feelings.
Secret Message in a Photo
By the middle of September, I felt I just couldn't stand it
any longer. I was weak after the hot summer and heavy work,
I had not received a letter or food parcel from my loved ones
for about four months. I thought something bad must have
happened to them.
One evening, I was told a letter had arrived for me. It
was from Sweden and came just at the right time to
strengthen me. There were several pictures of my wife and
children, as well as a picture of the front of the church in
London where Ruth and I had been married in 1937. My wife
and children had been there since and had taken the picture.
Across the front of the church could be read the words,
"Prayer changes things." I realized this sign had been
photographed to assure me that there were friends praying for
me. It was Ruth's message to me. The censors who went
through all mail for just such words as those hadn't noticed it
on the church photograph!
Ruth was very shrewd getting such messages to me. I
was more grateful to God for this letter than I would have
been for a food parcel, even though I was starving. Too often
these words , ' ' Prayer changes things , " are repeated mechan-
ically, but they had great meaning to me — there on that
island of horror. Every day I saw how the Lord's hand
protected me, so when I received Ruth's letter, my spirit was
lifted up. Prayer does change things!
The sign over the church, "Prayer changes things,"
was just the message I needed, During that summer on
Persin, many prisoners were killed. Two were shot for ven-
turing onto forbidden territory. A young boy less than four
feet from me was shot in the leg. One day, as we returned
from the fields he had stopped to break off an ear of corn. He
fell to his knees pleading with the guard to let him live, but
the guard walked up to him and shot him through the head.
On another occasion a dear friend of mine thought no
one was looking. He bent down to pull up a blade of grass and
shoved it in his mouth. A shot rang out and he lay at my feet
with a huge, gaping hole in his head. There was no rhyme nor
reason for the killings.
With the approach of winter, we were transferred to
work on the construction of an embankment that was to
encircle the island and protect it from flooding. It was to be
six yards high and thirty yards thick at the base. The site
where we were to work was about four miles from the
barracks and we were forced once again to run the four miles
with the guards on horseback chasing and whipping us. All of
this was to be done on a starvation diet.
The earth for the embankment was carted in crude
wheelbarrows from the nearby pastures. The minimum daily
work each man was ordered to do was three to six cubic feet.
Many collapsed under the strain, and we carried them back to
the barracks on our backs or in the wheelbarrows. Some-
times, we were too weak to move those who had fallen and
the guards left them there until they died.
One man, a prisoner who had accepted Christ in prison
through my ministry, fell and I struggled to carry him to the
barracks on my back. But it was just too much. I struggled
and managed for a short distance, but could go no further. No
one else could help. They, too, were too near death. My
friend and brother in Christ died where he lay. If only I could
have carried him. I think about him to this day.
Prison brought great friendships between prisoners who
shared common depths and sufferings. The best came out in
many men, especially Christians. There was great warmth,
care and concern for one another. For example, it was com-
mon to see a prisoner whose jaw had been smashed by the
guards being carefully fed by a fellow-prisoner who broke
the bread into unusually tiny bits for him so he could swallow
it more easily. Prison brought out the best in most men and
there was a strong M brotherhood' * together. With Christian
prisoners it was even more so.
Mankind's low nature without God hasn't changed.
There were such people when the Egyptian pyramids were
built, and when Israel was in captivity in Babylon and during
the Enlightenment and in Buchenwald, Siberia and Persin.
During this hot, dry summer, anyone who bent down to break
off a blade of grass, a leaf of lettuce, anything to eat or chew,
was immediately shot without warning. But many of us took
the risk in order to live.
The summer was over, and it hadn't rained the whole
time. Then it began to rain continuously and the island
became a sea of sticky mud. Walking in our home-made
rubber shoes, which were open and low, was worse than
ever. We patched and mended our ragged clothes to protect
ourselves against the coming winter.
The rains continued until the Danube, which had dried
up during the summer, again reached its normal level. The
lakes and ponds filled again and the road to our work fields
became almost impassable.
About this time, the Bulgarian bureaucracy, acting on
an idea they picked up from the Russians, decided that snow
fences should be built all over the country. We were ordered
to weave the snow fences from branches. Their purpose was
to prevent snow from spreading out and wetting the fields.
The torrential rains poured as we labored. Our rags were
soon soaked through. Almost the whole island was now
covered with water. In one month the depth of the river rose
from three feet to nine feet.
Our barracks were now sitting in a huge mud puddle
thirty inches deep. For weeks we lived in icy river water.
One day, in late November, a light snow mixed with
rain began to fall and by evening the ground not covered by
water was covered with snow. The following day the blanket
of snow became even heavier. Our wet clothes froze. The
temperature was down to twenty degrees above zero, but still
we had to work on the construction of the snow fences.
The Danube continued to rise and many acres of leeks
had yet to be brought in. Wet from living in water, with our
clothes frozen hard, we dug the leeks out of the snow with our
bare hands , or pulled them out of the icy water, depending on
the weather conditions. During the night the water would
freeze but the leeks had to be gathered, so we broke the ice
with our hands and continued working. Several prisoners
died of pneumonia in these months.
•*I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I am
come into deep water, where the floods overflow me" (Psalm
The Danube continued to rise throughout December,
threatening to flood the entire prison island and several
thousand prisoners. The officials were very alarmed about
the safety of the farm animals.
Precautions were taken to evacuate the animals if the
water continued to rise. But, we the prisoners, weren't to be
evacuated under any circumstances. We were less important
than the animals! This sounds unbelievable, but we saw
preparations made to leave us and evacuate the animals and
the guards. After all, it wouldn't have been their "fault" that
the flood came, and prisoners were something of which
Bulgaria had plenty.
On the smaller island of Sturez, a steel tower was being
built as part of an electrification project. The foundation had
been dug and the concrete poured. If it filled with water, it
could be dangerous, so fifty prisoners including myself were
taken to the island to pour concrete into the foundation of the
tower. We worked in three shifts while pumps kept the water
out of the foundation. Since the work was urgent, the chief
guard had two policemen go into the village and obtain bread
for us. This was an acknowledgment of the state of semi-
starvation in which we were kept. When they had to have
emergency work projects done quickly, as in this case, we
were given extra rations of bread. That was the one good
thing about the rising flood waters. It created so many
emergencies they gave us an extra two slices of bread a day!
We prayed for more "emergencies."
The Day Before Christmas
On the other side of the island, wooden poles had been
washed out by the torrents of flood water, now rising menac-
ingly ever higher, so we were sent to dig new holes and set up
the poles again. It was now December 24. We worked in icy,
rapidly flowing water up to our waists to retrieve the floating
poles and load them onto a raft.
Having loaded one raft I climbed aboard it and began to
pole it back to the shore. I was in the middle of the flooded
river, when suddenly the raft simply came apart beneath me
and I was deposited in the freezing water. I was a half-mile
from shore, caught up in the swollen, raging river with a
heavy coat and boots on and so frozen, I couldn't move. I was
dragged downstream by the current and went under several
times, but somehow managed to come back up. I was frozen
through by the icy water, the boots dragged me down, the
swift current pulled me along.
There was no human way out of this. Death was as
certain as it could be. My arms, my legs, my whole body
were numb from the icy water. The swift current, the heavy
boots and coat were dragging me under again and again. Still
I fought my way back to the surface, only to go under again.
My strength was completely gone. I gave up struggling.
Death had its embrace around me.
With a final breath I cried out, "Lord, help me!"
Suddenly a surge of strength shot through my frozen,
exhausted body. I began swimming toward the shore with
powerful strokes. Incredibly, I was able to pull myself along,
heavy, sodden boots and all. It was truly God's strength for I
had none left. A strong swimmer would have had trouble
making it, much less I in my condition. Yet, I could see I was
making progress. I said over and over " Thank You, Lord. "
Later, I remembered that beautiful hymn:
Though sometimes He leads through waters deep.
Trials fall across the way.
Though sometimes the path seems rough and steep.
See His footsteps all the way.
Those watching from the shore had already written me off as
dead and had turned away and gone about their work. After
all, life was so cheap, one prisoner more or less meant
nothing. We had seen so many die, death was commonplace.
I struggled closer and closer to the shore. Finally, I
could see the shore and saw two figures in black. They were
nuns. At that time a trial against Catholic priests and nuns had
just concluded, and they, too, had been convicted of espio-
nage. More than fifty priests and nuns were condemned to
prison and two Bishops and two priests were executed. The
two nuns before me were floundering in the mud at the river
bank while a woman guard commanded them to keep going.
The guard brutally kicked one of the nuns, causing her to fall
fiat where she sank into the soft, oozing mud. She pulled
herself up with great effort.
The village of Belene was about a mile and a half from
us. It was Christmas. The bells of the church began to ring
out with the glad tidings of the Christian faith. At the moment
the bells began pealing, the two nuns down at the river bank
were floundering and sinking in the mud without anyone to
help them and I, an evangelical pastor, had just used my last
ounce of strength to swim ashore and lay exhausted. The
bells seemed to be saying, "God is born in the form of a man.
God is revealing Himself through His Child."
I'll never forget that Christmas . I was lying exhausted
and the two nuns were sinking deeper into the mud. We
stopped our struggling and listened. It was dark and freezing
cold. I was almost a solid block of ice. The bells could be
heard faintly far off in the distance ringing out the message of
the Savior's birth.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I lay there. They were
tears of joy because I had not drowned and tears of sorrow
because neither the nuns nor I were here for any crimes we
had committed. We were here for His sake — He who was
born in a stable on that night so long ago.
I thought of the martyrs of the past: of the mothers
whose children Herod had killed; the saints who were stoned
to death; the thousands burned to death, bound to stakes; the
thousands thrown to the lions. Church history is stained with
the blood of thousands of Christian martyrs because they had
received God's Son for whom those bells now tolled. These
martyrs were not blind fanatics, but men and women with a
faith that lasted unto death. The faith which overcomes death
has no fear. Instead there is joy and a song ! Martyrs ! I relived
the past as the bells rang. I looked at the nuns. Tears were
coursing down their cheeks as well. We wept. We said not a
word, but we understood each other.
When the bells stopped, the present reality came rush-
ing back, but the Voice of God spoke to my heart, "This they
have done to My children through the ages, and this they do
to you for My sake.*'
Christmases in Prison
That Christmas and twelve others came and passed in
cold, frozen cells. When I was in solitary confinement on
Christmas day, I spent the day thinking of Ruth, Paul and
Rhoda, wondering what they were doing that day, if they
were well. I never permitted myself the luxury of thinking I
would ever see them again. I had long ago abandoned ail
hope of ever being with them again. So on those thirteen
Christmases, whether in a cell with others or in solitary
confinement, I never thought of seeing them again. It was
enough to make a man go mad and many had.
Christmases I spent trying to lift the spirits of fellow
prisoners. This was the worst day of the year for everyone.
Men who were buoyant and strong all year, often lapsed into
deep despair on Christmas Day.
After three or four Christmases came and passed, I
began to spend entire Christmas days as days devoted to
being a prison pastor to the men and trying to help them meet
the spiritual crises in their lives which were especially acute
on that day.
The main barracks at Persin were built directly on the
ground, but the waters of the river had not yet reached them
as they were protected by the retaining wall we had built at
such cost in human lives during the summer. We had also
built an embankment thirty yards long, twelve yards wide
and two yards high, and on this we had built two barracks.
One night, we were awakened in the barracks by the noise of
shouts. Someone yelled, "The river has broken through the
retaining wall! Run for your lives!"
As we ran out of the barracks and into the yard the water
was already waist deep and rising fast. Three or four
thousand men struggled through the icy, brackish water to
the two barracks built higher up on the embankment, which
had been built for only a hundred and twenty men! We were
so jammed that we could hardly move, but we just huddled
together. There we stood without guards, for they had aban-
doned us and were on higher ground on the other side. The
water rose steadily higher.
There was no attempt to rescue us. If the water con-
tinued to rise at least several hundred men would die, for
many were simply too weak to swim. I prayed, asking the
other Christians among the prisoners to pray with me. At last
the rising waters stopped and we knew we were saved. I
thanked God for this.
Since there were no guards present, the informers and
members of the 4 'Cultural Society' ' were left without protec-
tion. The non-Christian prisoners who had suffered so much
from the informers found a chance to take their revenge on
them. What followed was brutal. Throughout the night, safe
from guards, the beating of the informers continued and
when daylight came, many were bloody and injured. I tried
to stop the angry prisoners, but their fury at those who
betrayed them was beyond control. I was roughly pushed
aside and told, "Pastor, stay out of this!"
Finally, when the water receded and it was safe the
guards and the prison director returned. When the director
learned what had happened, he cursed and raged and swore to
take revenge. Since no one would confess to taking a part in
the beating of the informers, the prison director selected
fourteen men at random to be the victims of his revenge.
These unfortunate men were placed on a pontoon,
rowed to the middle of the river and anchored there, stranded
in the middle of the river. It was bitterly cold. They had only
very light prison clothes, no food and only river water to
drink. A guard was posted on the shore to watch them. They
remained there two whole weeks in terrible cold and suffer-
ing. On the second day there came a strong, icy wind and the
temperature sank to below zero. The fourteen men stamped
their feet and hopped and jumped about as much as they
could to maintain the circulation of their blood. On the fifth
day, the prison director took a motor boat into the river and
cruised around the pontoon with the fourteen freezing, dying
men, mocking them in the vilest language imaginable.
The rest of us also had to pay a price for the men who
beat the informers. We were all ordered out to the river bank
and forced at bayonet point to stand for ten days, exposed to
the now sub-zero cold and fierce winds sweeping down the
river, with nothing to eat or drink and no possibility of lying
down. It was so cold that even the swollen, raging Danube
now began to freeze over. It was a horrible, nightmarish
All around me men pathetically tried to get warm. One
shouted, "Jump around! It will keep you warm." Many
started jumping in a desperate struggle against the deadly
cold. Next to me, an older man began jumping. I cautioned
him not to use up his energy this way. He continued and the
next day fell at my feet. I tried to help him, but he died in my
arms. His body lay frozen at my feet for several days before
the guards came to take it away.
During the confusion of the flood, one young prisoner
managed to get away in a boat and rowed to the mainland
without being seen. He walked about 22 miles to the city of
Levski before he was caught and brought back to Persin. As
punishment for escaping, the young prisoner was locked in
the small kitchen of one of the huts which was so cold that it
had ice covering half the walls. When he was let out several
days later, he was so frozen he could hardly walk. He had
almost frozen to death and had to have both frost-bitten feet
Finally, after two weeks, the fourteen men on the pon-
toon were brought back to the barracks. Their feet had frozen
and they had black spots visible on their skin. One man had to
have his frozen toes amputated.
Slave Labor at Persin
The flood took a heavy toll of livestock on the island.
That's what really distressed the prison director. It showed
that the only way to avoid endangering the prisoners and
animals was to raise the level of the island, so we were
ordered to carry sand and stone by barrow to the area which
was to be raised. Freezing and half-starved, we were ordered
to dig up thirteen cubic feet of frozen earth every day and
carry it a hundred yards to the new location.
After we had finished with the raising of the land, we
were put on a wood-sawing detail on the island of Barzina,
just north of Persin. Barzina is a little over four miles long
and two or three hundred yards wide. The trees there are
unbelievably thick and tall. Every morning we carried our
pontoon to the water's edge, and every night we carried it and
the tree trunks we had cut back up the hill! After we got the
tree trunks on land we had to carry them on our backs and
shoulders a mile or more to the building site. It took about 20
hunger-weakened men to carry the tree trunks which were 45
to 60 feet long and up to two feet in diameter. Many times, I
fell under the terrible weight of the trees. Dying men
cursed — and others prayed. I thought, How foolish! If the
communists want labor they should feed the prisoners . Then
they would get much more work per man. But they never
seemed to think of that.
Heavy snows came and Persin settled into the great,
white freezing silence of winter. Only bent, broken dark
figures could be seen moving with great pain, under the
heavy load of felled trees. Those who collapsed lay where
they fell, their bodies turning black and frozen hard as stone.
When their bodies were finally removed, their arms and legs
remained frozen in the grotesque form in which they had
fallen. We who lived envied them their escape.
At last, spring came, reviving our spirits. Nettles and
other edible greens began to appear through the snow in the
forests. We also ate frogs, snakes, turtles and field rats. I will
never forget the taste of field rats. Rat meat is strange,
sweet-sour and very stringy with tendons. But we were so
starved, the rats were a feast.
"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of
hell gat hold upon me; I found trouble and sorrow. Then
called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee t
deliver my soul' 1 (Psalm 116:3, 4).
On March 5, 1953, we noticed during inspection that
the guards wore black bands on their coat lapels. The chief of
the barracks announced with a quivering voice that Comrade
Stalin had died. All guards and Cultural Society members
went around with mournful expressions. For most prisoners,
however, Stalin's death was cause for jubilation. We tried to
hide our feelings, but the informers knew who stood where,
and the guards went to work on those who had shaken hands
or not looked sufficiently sad during the announcement.
Many men were badly beaten that night because they didn't
look mournful enough.
One old man who faced life imprisonment laughed
when he heard the news, and laughed madly throughout the
vicious beating he received.
After Stalin's death, the guards became worse. The
reason was their own insecurity. Stalin had been more than a
leader to them; he was a higher being whom they worshiped.
Now that their god had died, their emotions of anger and fear
had to be expressed somehow. We were conveniently at
hand, so we were the victims. We prisoners were blamed for
all wrong as though we had caused Stalin's death.
Here I must say that I have found in the free world the
feeling that, certainly things were bad under Stalin, as even
Khrushchev confessed, but things since Stalin have im-
proved. This is totally untrue. The punishment and suffering
became less extensive for a while, then more clever and
subtle and dangerous. We experienced it immediately. To-
day, millions in communist lands are suffering as badly as we
did, only it is more subtle torture. Children are taken from
Christian parents for life. Is this not torture? In the com-
munist world today, Christians are tortured and imprisoned.
True Christian leaders die in prison of " natural causes. ' ' The
overall suffering is worse today in many communist lands
than it was under Stalin.
Into the Death Chamber
Our torture became like a pendulum. It swung to less
persecution for a while, then back again.
One hundred prisoners were selected including myself,
to form a "punishment brigade" and we were put in special
barracks. Every day the punishment became more severe.
One day we were ordered to bring out all our belongings.
These were searched and all food given to the gypsies in
another barracks. Even our daily bread ration was denied us.
Then we were marched to a warehouse, ordered to take off
our pants and overcoats, and given ragged and threadbare
clothes in exchange. The pants were so tight we were not able
to button them, and we had to hold them up with one hand.
The purpose of all this was to destroy the last bit of our
self-respect, but we marched proudly through the yard with
our heads held high — and our pants held up.
On April 20 we were shut up in a room and put on a
starvation diet of ten ounces of bread and a few spoonsful of
bean soup from which the beans had been strained. Here we
sat day and night with nothing to do and barely enough food
to keep us alive. It soon became clear that we were to starve
to death. Time was our fearful enemy.
The clock stopped.
We sat completely still, the utter silence being broken
only by the labored breathing of doomed men. We were left
totally alone, no food, little water. One week passed, then
two. Suddenly, we would hear a noise and every weakened
head turned. I realize my frequent use of the word "sudden-
ly'' may sound monotonous, but it can't be helped. Clumsy
as it is, it describes the situation. In the damp world and
stagnation of our sepulchre, the guards would from time to
time suddenly invade the cell to remind us that, unlike the
normal dead, we could be tormented again and again, physi-
cally and mentally, subtly and brutally, alone or together,
day and night.
Perhaps our physical suffering, the lack of food, water
and air clouded our consciousness through those long weeks,
but it seemed the world stopped as we sat literally waiting for
Finally, on May 8, we in the "punishment brigade"
were to be transferred to Barracks Number Two, while the
concentration camp prisoners took our place in Number One.
Separated from the main body of prisoners, we marched the
four and one-half miles to Barracks Number Two, with an
escort of guards on horseback who chased us as usual with
long leather whips.
I sensed a dark object racing toward my face from the
side as the jagged end of a long whip tore across my face
leaving a stream of blood. "Faster! Faster!" shouted the
guards on their horses. I remembered in a flash Jesus being
beaten with the whip and in a moment of lucid thought,
between gasps of breath, prayed, "Lord, help me to bear it
for Your name's sake!" For two hours I ran, staggered and
fell along with the biting lash of the great black whips cutting
through prison clothing and flesh like a knife through butter.
After two hours, the haggard, beaten "punishment
brigade," with me in the rear, reached our barracks and fell
exhausted and bleeding to the floor.
Barracks Number Two lay well above the floodwaters
of the Danube and was surrounded by barbed wire. On the
east and west sides were high towers manned day and night.
Near the entrance gate we saw a sign, loosely translated:
"Man is something to be proud of " — a quotation from
Maxim Gorki. I was struck by the irony of this quotation here
in a communist prison, where thousands of men were treated
like animals. But the words themselves contain a real truth.
God's Word teaches that man is the crown of creation. There
is nothing on the face of the earth greater than man. It is
strange that men who refuse to receive the Creator and who
don't consider a human being to be of any value had written
those words on the wall.
The gate opened and we were let in. When we looked
behind us we saw another quotation by Maxim Gorki: ' 'If the
enemy doesn't surrender, he must be annihilated."
I thought about the contradiction in the two phrases,
reflecting the division in the mind of the writer. By this, one
can understand the chasm between communism in theory and
communism in practice. The first quotation showed com-
munist theory in its effort to create an earthly paradise. The
second phrase showed the harsh reality. On the one hand,
man is something to be proud of; on the other, he is an enemy
who must be annihilated!
This is the difference between communism in theory
and communism in reality. Within several minutes, four or
five thousand men had been gathered inside the barbed wire
enclosure. We were called enemies, because we hadn't sur-
rendered and hadn't permitted the communist ideals to
triumph over our minds and hearts. Communism demands
complete conformity and subservience. We had refused to
conform and were the vilest enemy. According to the words
on the guardhouse, these men, at one time, had been some-
thing to be proud of. In reality the quotation is a good
argument against communism. It hurt us that only we, the
enemies of communism, could read them.
After several days, we discovered that prisoners from
other brigades were digging a deep hole near our barracks.
We watched the progress of the deepening, widening hole
with curiosity. We had no idea what its purpose was. When it
was completed, a group of workmen began building in the
deep cavity under the direction of a former building contrac-
tor. Then the word came by prison grapevine that this was a
special punishment pit being prepared to accommodate the
penal brigade — us! Looking at the forbidding pit, I asked
God for special strength. Little did I know I was to spend the
next 9 months in the almost airless pit jammed with starving
men fighting for every breath. With all I had seen and
experienced of man's inhumanity to man I was still surprised
at man's creative and satanic genius at finding new ways to
torture his fellow-man.
When I preach salvation today I do it with a new fervor.
For 13 years I lived with everyday experience of how low
men can sink without God. Man has the capacity to rise to the
greatest spiritual heights but he also has the capacity to sink
to the lowest, most vile levels. No animal has this "range."
Nine Months in the Pit
' 'Arid they took him, and cast him into the pit: and the
pit was empty, there was no water in it" (Genesis 37:24).
The pit was a huge hole in the ground about 10 feet
deep. The sides of the pit were lined with heavy timbers to
prevent caving in and the ceiling was made of thick wooden
beams stretching from one side of the hole to the other. In
between the beams were planks of wood with the small
cracks daubed with clay. It was air tight. There were no
windows, of course, and no air vents. The "door" was a
1 'trap door' ' in the ceiling, 20 inches wide. It was the only air
inlet. The pit was divided by upright beams and iron bars into
two parts, with a passageway between. On one side were
one-man cells, measuring 9 by 6 feet. On the other was one
big room, 60 by 12 feet.
After it was completed we were told that we were to
be punished in a new way. (The prison grapevine had told us
in advance.) All 100 of us were led out single file and
"dropped' ' through the trap door onto the damp, sandy floor
of the pit. On one side of the passageway stood a barrel of
drinking water, on the other side was the barrel which served
as the toilet for 100 men. The floor was a layer of cold, damp
sand. In the totally dark, hot, airless hole, we soon removed
all our clothes except our undershorts, and lay on the cool
sand gasping for air.
There we awaited death. The only indication of time
was the morning and evening meal consisting of our bread
ration and "soup" water with not even a bean in it, and a
smaller amount than before.
The Incident of the Bean
Once, by accident or oversight, a single bean was left
floating in the "soup" of one man. What rejoicing by the
man in whose bowl it was found! You would have thought it
was a huge roast of beef. But only someone who has been in
such a prison can know the significance and meaning of
discovering one bean floating in water "soup." We all re-
joiced with him over the bean. Men who have nothing will
grasp at any straw.
It was now Spring, and the accumulated heat of the
airless pit became a stifling oven, fed by the still, decayed air,
heavy with the heat, perspiration and odor of 100 bodies
gasping for air in a deadly struggle for the next breath.
After several days, some of the older prisoners became
unconscious. We beat on the trap door to attract attention,
and when the guards opened the door and lowered them-
selves into the mass of wriggling bodies they found 10
prisoners unconscious. These men were taken outside to be
revived. As soon as they came to they were thrown back in
again. I lay on the floor of the pit, burying my face deeply in
the sand, trying to breath the air trapped in the loose sand.
The next day we had to beat on the door three times as
our friends fainted in the heat or through lack of oxygen. It
was clear all would soon die under present conditions. But
they didn't want us to "escape" them that easily through
death. They always wanted us to die their way, not ours. So
the following day we were removed from the pit and returned
to the punishment barracks for several days while workmen
made ventilation holes in the roof of the dungeon. We looked
like the "Legion of the Dead/* Our brief respite was soon
over and again we were lowered into the pit, one by one.
While there was a little more air, we still fought for every
breath and the pit was again full of the sounds of 100 men
gasping for breath.
We remained there day and night through May and June
in total blackness. We had all lost weight and looked like
pallid skeletons by then.
But our labor was needed. In early July we were taken
from the dungeon each morning and put to work filling a
small lake with dirt. When the other prisoners saw us emerg-
ing from the pit like sick moles from the earth, they were
horrified by our appearance. They were in such bad shape
themselves, we must have looked horrible. We were so weak
that we could move only a few shovelsful of dirt at a time in
the wheel barrows, but the fresh air and sunshine were a
During July the authorities began building an embank-
ment around the island at great speed. The prisoners who
could not do two days work in one day were thrown into the
pit with us, though we were already crowded with wasted
bodies. The new arrivals were put in the big room, while we
"old-timers," all 100 of us, were placed in the one-man
cells. In the mornings the new prisoners were taken out to
work, and in the evenings brought back to the dungeon, but
we were kept behind, spending every day and night in total
darkness, except for occasional shafts of light when the
trap-door was opened and closed.
There were 17 of us in each stifling hot * ' one-man" cell !
We were literally piled on top of one another. Yet, living as
starved moles deep in the earth, there was an amazing spirit
of brotherly love among us.
With 17 men in a one-man cell, it was impossible to lie
down. Sleep became impossible, so I said to the men, "We
can't all sleep at once. We must sleep in shifts. Half should
sleep on the floor while the other half crowd against the walls
in the smallest space possible. When those sleeping finish,
they can crowd together and those standing can sleep."
They accepted my suggestion and half stretched out and
slept and half stood packed tightly against the bars as they
slept. In this way, we all managed to get some sleep, fitful
though it was.
As the weeks passed, we began to be summoned, one by
one, before the DS and asked to become informers. My turn
came and I entered the office of our former barracks chief,
Boris MitefT. There was another young man present. MitefT
said "Comrade Popov, I would like you to meet Comrade
Tritchkov." The alarm bells rang in my head. They had
addressed me as "Comrade." I knew I had to be very
careful. Tritchkov asked me how my family was, then said,
"Comrade Popov, we have decided to free you from the pit,
since we feel you will be more sensible and obliging in the
I couldn't believe my ears! Hope welled up within me,
even though I fought it, knowing there was a condition.
No more torture . . . no more stifling hot pit, I
thought. Then Tritchkov continued, "We only want you to
do us a little favor. When we let you go, we want you to go to
the barracks and give us a written report on the condition of
the prisoners there and what they talk about."
So thafs it, I thought.
This amounted to becoming an informer and col-
laborator. The seemingly innocent favor was to cover what
would have been my spiritual surrender. They had temporar-
ily broken my will physically at the trial, but they had never
brainwashed or "reformed" me. I had held out this long and
I was determined not to give in now. Yet I knew this was the
most decisive choice in my life; either to accept the invitation
and be freed from the pit so that I could come out in the fresh
air and the sun, or to decline to do the little "favor," and
remain faithful to my God and retain the confidence of my
fellow prisoners and probably die in the pit. There was no
other option, and under the present condition, death was only
a matter of time . I had begun to black out from time to time in
the pit, clear signs of lack of air and a collapsing respiratory
For a moment, I closed my eyes in silent prayer. The
two men awaited my answer. Suddenly God's Word came to
me: ". . . that the trial of your faith, being much more
precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with
fire, might be: found unto praise and honor and glory at the
appearing of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 1:7).
It was completely clear to me then that if I said * 'yes" I
would become an apostate and lose my faith and my hope in
I gave a concise answer: "No." That was all I said.
Tritchkov's cordial expression immediately disap-
peared. He said, "Popov." (The title "Comrade" was now
suddenly dropped.) "Don't answer too quickly. This is a
serious matter. I warn you, think a little more about it. You
do want to see your family again, don't you?"
I answered, "You know that I am a pastor. I believe in
God and serve Him. I am a pastor to these men. And now you
want me to report to you all they tell me. Never could I do
that. " I went on, "Do what you want to me and this body. It
is but clay. But I will never deny my faith."
Tritchkov clenched his fists and roared, "Then you will
rot in that pit! You will never get out!" I had heard those
words before and God had overridden them once and could
do so again.
So it was back to the pit. In August, dysentery struck us.
It lasted for a month and left us like skeletons covered with
skin. Never could I describe the inferno that was the pit. Men
lay like the dead, not moving and gasping for air. The
horrible smell from the overflowing cans was overpowering.
Almost total darkness 24 hours a day. Seventeen men in
one-man cells. Fed only "soup" which was flavored water.
It was like a scene out of Dante's "Inferno." The sounds of
men gasping for one more breath filled the pit. How long
could this go on? We had already been down here for six
months! Some, who lapsed into unconsciousness and then
slipped into death, were the fortunate ones.
At the end of August, a new prison director took charge
and one day as the soup was poured into our cups, one of the
men shouted, "There's a bean here!" You can't imagine
what that one bean meant. At last we had a bean or two in the
Apparently, we were more valuable alive than dead.
They needed our labor and began releasing us, early in
September, for hard labor, a few at a time. On November 30,
I was released. I had been in the darkened, steaming pit for
nine months! Only God kept me alive.
Tritchkov 's prediction — like the earlier ones — that I
would rot there was not fulfilled. Our lives and destinies do
not depend on human ambitions and predictions, but on a
higher will and power. God opened the door of the pits. Now
it was back to the regular routine in prison.
My Work as a Prison Pastor
Conditions in prison changed little by little for the
better. We had a little more food, but still not enough for a
grown man. The physical beatings and torture became less
frequent, but the "brainwashing" efforts increased. The
emphasis changed to more subtle psychological torture. Dur-
ing all my years of imprisonment, I had used every occasion
possible to serve as a '"Prison Pastor' ' to the prisoners.
Since I had been removed from my pulpit, I was deter-
mined my pulpit would be wherever I was.
With the improvement in food and the new strength it
gave me, I found I could increase my ministry in prison; and I
had more energy to witness and minister to the men. Up until
this time, I was too weak from fighting for life. With the
easing of conditions somewhat, my ministry started in a
much increased scale. I am sure the communists didn't intend
this, but it was the result of new-found energy. Soon, I was
running a regular '"church" in prison. My "congregation"
were men who were in dire need, spiritual and physical. My
"church" was a cell, the prison exercise yard, or anywhere
we could meet. We always had to camouflage the purpose of
our gathering. God abundantly blessed this ministry and time
and time again, a prisoner would say to me, "Pastor, I've
been listening and thinking about what you've been telling us
and I want to serve Christ, too." These were the moments
that I lived for and I had the joy of bringing many to Christ in
the various prisons but especially there at Persin.
Where a man expressed his interest in Christ, we would
pray together wherever we were. If it were in the fields where
we were working, we would go down on our knees, pretend
we were looking closely at something on the ground, but
actually we were praying.
One day, while I was praying with a prisoner in the
field, a guard rode up on his horse and shouted, "What are
you men doing there?"
I replied, "Looking at the harvest."
He didn't know I meant a spiritual harvest!
Men in prison are at the end of themselves. In normal
life men have wives and children and jobs. This, plus mate-
rial things, can dull a man's sense of his need for God. But in
prison all this was taken away. Men had time to think. Their
values became clear in prison and many genuinely realized
their need of God. It was a very fruitful field for a Prison
But more than anything else, I needed a Bible or Testa-
ment or gospel for my ministry with the men. The Word of
God held the answer to their needs, but I didn't have a Bible
and it was impossible even to hope to get one. I prayed,
"Lord, these men need Your Word. These are eternal souls.
God, I'm doing my very best but they need Your Word. " I
left it in God's hands. No prison bars can stop Him. The
impossible is the possible with God! So I left it with God.
"Thy words were found, and I did eat them: and thy
word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart' '
One day I noticed that Stoil, the man whose bed was
next to mine, had something in his hands. I couldn't tell what
it was, but it looked like a little book. Then I saw what he was
doing. Stoil was tearing a page out of the book in which to
roll a cigarette. To my astonishment I saw that it was a New
I had not seen a Scripture portion for five years! Instinc-
tively I grabbed it from Stoil and looked at it. Stoil started to
grab it back as tears flowed down my cheeks. He stopped,
caught with surprise at what it obviously meant to me.
"Stoil," I asked, "Where did you get this book?"
"When we were transferred here from the first barracks
area, I found it in a trash can."
I said, "Stoil, please give me the Book."
"No," he answered firmly, "I'm reading it." He
grabbed it from my hands.
But I knew he wanted the thin paper only for use as
cigarette paper! I couldn't bear the thought of God's Word
which I had not seen for five years being used as cigarette
"Stoil, I will give you all the money I have for the
book." At this particular time we were able to keep a little
money on hand at times to buy from the prison canteen.
When I offered Stoil all the money I had his eyes
widened. The he brightened and answered: "Pastor, since
you want it so much you may have it. Here, take it!" Then I
held it! God's Word! I wept before the men and they turned
their heads so as not to embarrass me.
For five years I had starved physically, but I had starved
even more spiritually, and I can tell you the spiritual hunger
is more painful than the physical. Now I began to take the
advice of Ezekiel 3:3 " . . . cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy
bowels with this roll that I give thee. . . . Then did I eat."
I had given my life to God in 1926. From that day until
the day I was arrested, God's Word had been my inseparable
daily companion. Then, abruptly, I had been cut off from it
for five years. I offered Stoil all my money for the New
Testament, but I would have given him my arm or leg if he
had asked for it! That's what God's Word meant to me
then — and now.
What an indescribable loss it is to be without a Bible or
Testament! During my whole time in prison I felt an empti-
ness and sharp, almost physical pain at being denied the
Word of God. I had, of course, read God's Word my whole
Christian life, and knew verses and longer portions, but
because of the torture and beatings I had been through and the
long time I had been separated from God's Word, I had
forgotten certain parts. Strangely, torture often has the effect
of clouding the memory. I noticed this effect very often.
I knew I wouldn't be able to keep the New Testament for
long. Eventually the prison guards would find and destroy it.
But as long as I remained here on the island I could hide it out
in the fields, in the straw and hay. Each day I hid it in a
different place so they wouldn't notice a pattern. After hiding
it in straw and hay I began to dig holes, put up a marker of
some kind and dig it up to read. By all means, I knew I had to
keep it in the fields because our cells were often searched.
But since my best chance to read it was late at night in my
cell, I took the risk of taking it back to the cell with me,
praying all the while there would be no surprise inspection
that night. This also gave me more opportunities to read to
Memorizing 47 Chapters
Realizing I wouldn't have the Testament for long, I
decided to memorize as much of it as possible. I began to
"eat" God's Word, memorizing many verses every day.
Everywhere I went I had the Testament with me. I always
found occasion to study it. First, I memorized 1 Peter, then
Ephesians, 1 John, the gospel of John, Romans 1, 5 and 8, 1
Corinthians 13 and 14, and 2 Corinthians 5. Forty-seven
chapters in all.
When I was later moved to a regular prison, it was
impossible to hide the Testament any longer. But by then I
was almost a "walking New Testament." Now with God's
Word I began greatly to enlarge my ministry to my fellow
prisoners. During the years ahead, God prospered my minis-
try in prison as I used every possible opportunity to minister
to the men about me. Of course, it had to be "underground"
ministry, for it was punishable by beatings or starvation.
It was particularly dangerous work, as I never knew
who the informers in our midst were. I wondered what to do
about the problem of informers. If I were cautious, the men
would sense I was fearful and my Christian influence would
be harmed. Then I decided, "Well, the informers need the
Word of God, too!" Let them hear it also, If they talk, they
From that day on I never permitted myself to think of the
dangers of informers. Of course, many times I would be
called to the prison director's office and told, "Popov, we
know you held a secret religious meeting in your cell! We
know that. When will you ever learn?"
Preaching By Prison Telegraph
In prison we had developed a * ' Prison Telegraph . ' ' One
existed in most prisons because in prisons, communication
with one another is very important. This was the way prison-
ers passed news along the "prison grapevine." The prison
telegraph consisted of a crude "Morse code. * ' One tap on the
wall stood for the letter "A." Two taps were "B." Three
taps were "C" and so on, all the way through the alphabet.
To say something with the letter " V" in it took ages! Yet, it
Left alone, I had an idea. If the Prison Telegraph could
be used to spread rumors and news, why couldn't it be used to
spread the Gospel? I took my tin drinking cup and began
tapping on the wall and waited. Sure enough, in just a few
moments, there came a tapping sound from the other side.
4 * What is your name?" I tapped.
"M-I-T-S-H-E-V" he replied.
4 'How long have you been there?" I tapped.
"Three weeks," he tapped back.
I soon developed a special "technique" for tapping. If
it were discovered by the guards, I would be stopped. So, I
stood up in the cell with my back leaning on the cell wall, as if
I were resting and tapped with the cup in my hand behind me.
This way I could keep my eye on the Judas-hole and im-
mediately stop if I heard or saw the little door over the
Judas-hole open. I told Mitschev to listen because I had
something very important to tell him.
He tapped back that he was ready.
I asked him if he were a born-again believer in Christ.
"No," he replied.
"Have you heard that Christ died for our sins?"
"Only in the Orthodox Church when I was a boy,"
"Listen," I tapped, "because I want to tell you what
Christ can do for you."
Then, for the next three days, interrupted only by sleep,
I "preached" a message of God's love and Christ's salvation
to Mitshev. After we stopped for a night, Mitshev would start
by tapping, a question such as, "But, Pastor, how can my
sins be gone? I don't understand." This was good! Mitshev
On the fourth day, Mitshev tapped back, "I am ready
now to believe on Jesus, pray for me. I am ready to accept
Christ. " I told him to get on his knees in his cell and I would
get on mine in my cell and we would pray together. A few
minutes later, Mitshev tapped back. "I do thank God. I have
given my life to Him. * * After his conversion, I built his faith
for 3 more days until I was taken back to my regular cell. All
of this was by tapping with a tin cup. Not one audible word
was ever said.
I never saw Mitshev, but I knew he had found Christ.
After this, I tapped the Gospel almost up to the day of
my release and came to welcome visits to this punishment
cell because of the opportunity it gave me to witness to those
in the next cells by tapping the Gospel. In the many years to
come I witnessed and preached the Gospel very often by
Prison Telegraph tapping with a tin cup on the cell walls.
Using my "back against the wall, eyes on the Judas-hole"
technique, I never once was caught.
Many men whom I never saw told me on the Prison
Telegraph they had gained new strength and faith in God. For
this I praise God.
After the New Year of 1954 came the most cold winter
months. The temperature dropped to twenty degrees below
freezing and the snow piled up to a depth of three feet. We
had to work as usual. We shoveled snow all day, then
watched the blizzard cover the roads again. One night was so
cold that even though we wrapped ourselves up in blankets
and pelts, many of us had frostbitten hands, feet and noses
In spite of the swift current, the Danube froze. Two
young boys tried to escape even though all tracks were visible
in the snow. They were caught, handcuffed and put into the
punishment cell. The handcuffs had spiked teeth on the
insides which cut into the flesh at the slightest movement.
It was still bitter cold, and after ten days, the hands and
feet of the two boys were blue and in danger of freezing. The
boys screamed for help and a doctor was called, but ail help
was useless. They were taken to the hospital where the doctor
amputated every one of their fingers. Unable to work any
more, they were transferred to a prison on the mainland.
A veterinarian was punished along with the boys. He
did not have handcuffs on so only his feet were frozen. The
doctor had to amputate everything but his heels. He was
released after a couple of months and was able to walk again
with the help of crutches.
At the end of March, the snow melted and the ice on the
Danube began to break up. The lower part of Persin became
flooded and Barracks Number Two was affected. The water
remained on the island a long time and all work had to be
stopped. It was a wonderful opportunity for the prisoners to
rest, and a wonderful opportunity to witness for Christ with-
out the interruption of hard labor.
One day I felt a sudden pain in my right hip which the
doctor diagnosed as a severe attack of sciatica. He said that
the joints themselves were infected. The pains grew more
unbearable each day. I was given Novocain and aspirin, but
nothing seemed to help. It felt as if a knife had cut through
flesh and bone. During July the summer heat began and the
pain in my leg was reduced by sunbathing. I managed to get
around on crutches.
Until the end of August, I rested. Then I was taken to a
hospital and given special medicine sent to me from Sweden
by way of my brother. Gradually the pain subsided. I was
able to walk with a cane, and felt pain only when I stood on
my bad leg.
On October 17, the sciatica pain suddenly left me. Ruth
later wrote to me that on just this day, she had awakened
early. It was the day of our wedding anniversary, and as she
prayed, her thoughts were naturally on me and my illness.
Ruth doesn't find it easy to cry but she cried then, and her
fervent prayer was heard, for I was healed the same day.
Answers to prayers sometimes come faster than we dare to
At the end of November, I was released from the hospi-
tal, but I still couldn't work. On February 26, 1955, together
with 50 others who were also unable to work, I was put
aboard a box car on a train which would take us to different
prisons in Bulgaria.
The joy of leaving Persin was almost as overwhelming
as when I was later freed. What memories I had left back on
that island — the bad times and the good times. Especially
was I thrilled to know I was leaving behind many prisoners
who had found Christ through my ministry.
Together with the 50 other disabled veterans of Persin I
strode down the side streets of Belene to the station, some
three miles away. Though we were ill, our spirits were high.
Anything was better than Persin, we thought.
The prison at Varna where I was taken was several miles
outside the city and surrounded by vineyards. It was often
called "the monastery" because of its distinctive red brick
At Varna there was a large sign which read, "Today's
prisons in the People's Republic of Bulgaria do not serve for
punishment but for retraining." I had already proved I was
not a good subject for retraining.
The superintendent of the prison was called Tchipaiev,
after the hero of a Russian film. To this day I don't know his
real name. Tall and thin, with a swollen face, he was known
and feared as one for torturing prisoners rather than "retrain-
ing" them. Seldom did we see him sober. Later, I heard he
died from alcoholism.
We were taken to a big dormitory which had previously
been furnished with 10 beds on each side with a wooden table
in the middle. The beds had been replaced with wooden
bunks and now offered accommodation for 25 prisoners, but
we numbered between 40 and 50, The table was taken out
and some had to make their beds on the floor.
I shall never forget how it felt to wash off the dirt from
Persin! It was like a snake changing its skin. To take a
shower, to wash my hands before I ate, to sleep in a bunk
rather than on a cement floor — this was so wonderful! And
' so temporary, as I was to learn later.
We were given no work, so I had time to read my New
Testament more than usual and memorized large portions,
aware I couldn't hide it forever. I was in a desperate "race"
to memorize as many chapters as possible before the inevita-
ble discovery and confiscation. One unpleasant innovation at
Varna was the frequent propaganda lectures. Almost every
day, a number of the "Cultural Society" lectured us for a
couple of hours on rehabilitation. The prisoners hated it.
There were such "exciting" topics as "The History of the
Soviet Union Communist Party' ' and "The History of the
Bulgarian Communist Party,"
We were given communist newspapers, parts of which
were marked to be read. I read everything but those parts. We
were forced to read editorials, articles on agriculture and on
the construction of factories — on everything which pro-
moted communism and its goals.
Once we read that a delegation of Bulgarian com-
munists had visited China. It was reported that they greatly
praised the communists' victorious crusade in China. Among
other things, the article reported about rice cultivation there.
It seems the communists there had such extraordinary grains
of rice that one could reap 100 pounds of rice from every
three square feet. A friend and I calculated that if we poured a
hundred pounds of rice on an area of three square feet, there
would be a layer six inches thick! I read this discovery to the
barracks full of men and all roared with laughter except one.
We then knew who the "resident informer" was.
The food got better, and we could buy certain things we
wanted in the canteen. My brother, Ladin, who had finished
five years of imprisonment, and was now serving as an
underground pastor, often brought food parcels.
I didn't care about the communists' motives for giving
us more food. I was only grateful for the added strength to
carry out my work for God in the prison.
Another significant development was a week of meet-
ings between the Secret Service and the Prison Welfare
Department. Prisoners were called in for new hearings, usu-
ally a sign that release was imminent. A first group — those
arrested in connection with Tito's break with Russia — had
been released in 1955. In May, 1956, another big group was
freed, including 400 prisoners from Belene and 80 from
Then came the Hungarian Revolution which quickly
turned to a blood bath. The communists feared it might
spread to Bulgaria and the other communist countries, so the
releases stopped, arrests and trials went on, and the old
prison tactics were resumed. The pendulum was swinging
back again. Thus the short-lived hope for better conditions
died amongst the blood and death of the Hungarian Revolu-
tion. The cells filled up again.
At the end of August, the political prisoners were
gradually removed from Varna. I was in the last group, with
82 others. At the station we were put into two freight trucks.
The next evening we got off the train at Stara Zagora, and
were taken by truck to the prison there.
I Lose My New Testament
At Stara Zagora we were placed in one man cells; six to
a cell. It was most unpleasant there because they often had
surprise inspections in the middle of the night. This caught us
in the middle of Bible study meetings late at night. The
guards wore soft cloth shoes and we couldn't hear them
coming. Shortly after we arrived, the cell door was opened
and we were all taken to the toilet and locked in. When we
returned to the cell we found all our bags had been opened
and the contents piled in the middle of the floor. Even the
mattresses had been ripped open! Everything written or
printed was gone, including my Testament!
What a loss, but I was so happy that by this time I had
memorized 47 chapters of God's Word. They were hidden in
my heart where they could not be taken from me. These 47
chapters were my "Bible."
One day an imprisoned Catholic priest told me there was
an old Bible in the library. This was unbelievable! A Bible in
a communist library! Evidently the prison officials had no
idea it was there. I rushed to the library at the first chance and
tried not to look too excited as I took it back to my cell. I kept
it for several weeks. All my cell mates began to read it; then
the prisoners in the adjacent cells; and soon everyone in the
prison block wanted to read it. I passed it through the bars
from one cell to another. These men "devoured" the Scrip-
tures. In freedom many had refused to read God's Word.
Now, they hungrily read its words of blessings. We circu-
lated the Bible for weeks . It passed through countless hands .
Finally, of course, the news got back to the Prison
Director and he exploded with rage!
Bible Classes in the Prison Yard
It was a constant challenge to me to find new oppor-
tunities to minister to the continual change of prisoners. New
ones would come in and older men would be taken out to new
prisons or to be released. All in all, I had the opportunity at
one time or another to minister to several thousand men, one
way or another directly or through tapping on prison walls.
I will cite only one example of how I was able to use
almost any pretext to preach the Gospel.
Stara Zagora was full of younger prisoners. A new wave
of arrests had filled the prison to overflowing. When I arrived
there and saw all the new, young faces, I said, ''Thank You,
Lord, for the new congregation You've sent me/' Of course,
I wish they had not been arrested, but since they were, I'm
glad I was put amongst them.
Unlike most pastors, I changed "churches" not by a
vote of the congregation, but by order of a prison comman-
dant. All through the thirteen years, it seemed when I had
done my best at one prison, the commander obliged me by
ordering me to another prison where I had a new congrega-
Another difference was my congregation couldn't get
up and walk out. They were a "captive" audience. I saw
humor in this situation and I told the men. They laughed with
me and said, "It's fine, pastor, as long as you don't take a
Laughter was vital to prisoners and I did my best to keep
a sense of humor and perspective. The first sign a man was
descending into madness was when he stopped laughing.
When this happened all the fellow prisoners, who looked on
one another as brothers, spent much time trying to lift the
man back to normalcy. Without the prison humor, we all
would have gone mad.
So in Stara Zogara I found a new congregation of young
men recently arrested.
I prayed all night, "God, help me reach these men.
Show me how." Since we were under surveillance, I had to
find some way to teach them God's Word secretly.
Then the Lord showed me the answer! I spoke fairly
good English from my Bible school year in England. We had
a 90- minute exercise period each day. Why not use that?
So, I passed word to all prisoners who wanted to learn or
improve their English to meet me in the corner of the exercise
yard the next day. I couldn't wait for the hour to come. When
it did, I found myself surrounded by about 30 prisoners,
some who spoke a little English. They were very interested in
improving their English. For several weeks, I taught them
enough English to understand me clearly. Then I started
" Phase Two" of my plan.
I started speaking entirely in English about the Bible and
God's Word. The prison guards couldn't speak English. So
they came up to listen in, shrugged and walked off. If they
had known why I was smiling ! I was able freely to preach and
teach the Gospel to the young men in English. Their hunger
to learn better English brought them there each day until the
Word of God began to take hold. I learned later the prison
commander asked the guards what I was up to and they
replied, "Popov's out there teaching English." The com-
mander shrugged, "If that's how he wants to waste his
exercise period, it's no concern of mine."
The Bible classes in the exercise yard continued for
several weeks. The men drank in God's Word. Not only had
the men learned English but a great deal about God's Word
and the Word began bearing fruit.
A significant change took place in the lives of several of
the men. Several stopped smoking even though they had
sworn they never could.
One of the men who couldn't open his mouth without
cursing, asked me one day after Bible Class, "Pastor Popov,
what has happened to me, I don't swear any more!"
The change in their lives was remarkable and noticed by
all the other men.
They began whispering to the other men and the men
passed the Gospel from one cell to another. Men sat up at
night in the cell talking about the Bible and God.
God became the number one topic in the cells late at
night. A warm spirit of brotherhood and love passed from
cell to cell.
* 'Graduates" of my Bible class began conducting Bible
classes of their own in the cells at night.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the influence of
these Bible classes reached into every cell-block at Stara
Zogara. I myself was surprised. I learned a lesson there:
God's Word grows and spreads most in a condition of suffer-
ing and privation. This is what made the spiritual harvest I
was able to reap so abundant in communist prisons.
How my heart rejoiced when I saw the influence of
God's Word on the prisoners. Some, of course, had not
changed, but many lives were changed and the difference in
Stara Zogara was real and noticeable. When the lights went
out at night you could almost hear the buzz of men talking
about God's Word and what this or that Scripture meant.
Even those who didn't believe were deeply impressed
by the change in the lives of several of the men. They could
argue against the Bible, but they couldn't refute the changed
One day at Stara Zogara I was called before a Secret
Police official named Tamo. It was the same day that de
Gaulle came into power in France. A tall, thin young DS man
was also present in Tanio's office, and soon Tanio left me
alone with him.
The young DS man and I talked for about two hours.
From what he said, I knew that he not only knew all about me
but about all the pastors and congregations. Perhaps he had
been a believer, or had relatives who were believers. He
knew about the life in our churches and was well versed in
He would be very glad to help me, he said; that was why
he had come. But since he had been sent by the Secret Police,
I didn't expect anything good to come of it.
We began talking about religion, although he was wary
when it came to God. He was cordial and agreeable and we
became completely taken up with the subject.
After we had talked about the pastors and congrega-
tions, he steered the conversation into politics. The most
important question of the day to the communists was whether
the French would elect Charles de Gaulle as president. The
communist newspapers said that his election would be a
grave mistake. I didn't know anything about it, but I decided
if the communist papers were against it, I was for it.
I have no idea why, but the young man asked me,
"Popov, do you believe de Gaulle will take over?"
1 *I not only believe that he will do it but I believe he has
already done it," was my reply.
He almost struck me. It was as if de Gaulle's coming to
power depended upon my answer! "Is it God who has re-
vealed this to you?' ' he asked. I replied that it had nothing to
do with God.
"Are you really a spy with connections in France al-
so?" he asked.
"No, ' ' I replied, and couldn't help but chuckle. * 'It was
the articles in your own newspaper you forced us to read that
revealed it," I said.
He asked me how long I had been in prison. I said I had
been in prison for ten years and that I had only a little time left
"You think that's a little?"
"It is little after I have been in for ten years."
"Has your sentence been shortened?"
"No, not at all up to now."
In fact, my prison term had been shortened by about one
year. The principle was that if one worked two days, his term
was shortened by one day. But the young man meant a
sentence shortened by a pardon.
Then he looked at me sympathetically and said, tv We
will try to shorten your term."
The alarm bells rang instantly. I had long ago learned
two things: beware when the DS offered help and beware
when they call you "Comrade."
He answered that all I had to do was become a member
of the Cultural Society, give lectures and do what they said.
I answered that I could never do that. "I have already
served ten years. I won't compromise my Christian stand. To
compromise now, with only a short time left — I never will
He tried to persuade me, but I insisted that I would not
alter my decision. Around and around we went. Finally,
exasperated, he expressed his regret that he would not be able
to help me. When I returned to my cell, I told my comrades
about the conversation. They then said that at exactly four
o'clock (when I had been talking to the young DS man) it was
announced on the state radio that de Gaulle had become head
of the government in France.
The effects of the Hungarian Revolution began to wear
off, and gradually conditions in the prison improved. Again
the pendulum swung. The number of men per cell was
reduced to five, and in 1958 it dropped to four. Four men in a
"one-man" cell was luxury to me!
By June of 1959, 1 had lost all evidence of sciatica pains
and volunteered to work in a quarry some miles from the
prison. It would allow me to meet another group of prisoners.
I was always trying to circulate among the prisoners leaving
behind a witness for Christ.
We went by truck to the quarry, taking clothes and other
necessities with us, as we were to work and sleep there. The
whole quarry was surrounded by barbed wire, but the bar-
racks were immaculate, the food was ample and well cooked
and there were fruit trees in the yard.
The work was heavy. Some men bored holes in the rock
and did the dynamiting, others broke up the huge rocks and
loaded them on the wagons which took them to a machine
which ground them into stones of the desired size.
Because I was so weak, I found quarrying very hard
work. We used 22-pound sledge hammers to break up the big
rocks. It was difficult for me just to lift the hammer, much
less break the rocks. My whole body ached, but I had won-
derful opportunities to work for Christ. I started up a Bible
Class at the quarry barracks right under their noses, and they
never found out about it. Even the ever-present informer
evidendy didn't report me. I could only conclude that he was
enjoying the Bible classes too.
On March 1, 1961, several other prisoners and I were
shipped by freight car back to infamous Persin prison. We
arrived on Saturday and had to wait in a cold and dirty
receiving room until Monday. The food we were given at
Stara Zagora had been eaten during the trip, so we went
hungry until Monday.
Before we were assigned to work, we were interrogated
once again by the Secret Police. When I said I was an
evangelical pastor, one of the Secret Police said that the
Russians had put Yuri Gagarin in orbit between the earth and
the planets and he had not found God anywhere up there. All
the other prisoners looked at me, waiting for my reply. I said,
"The kind of God Gagarin looked for with his eyes does not
The officer shot back, "Wonderful Popov, I'm so glad
to hear you don't believe in God anymore. Maybe prison has
done you some good after all."
I replied, "You're wrong, I do believe there is a God. I
don't believe in the God you are looking for, but I do believe
in a God who is Spirit and Truth and who can never be
discovered by rockets."
That made him furious and he ordered me out. As I left I
saw the other prisoners smiling quietly.
Along with a group of men, I was ordered to Barracks
Number Two on Persin. I hardly recognized the island. The
whole island was covered with newly planted trees; good
roads had been built on the embankments, and there was a
handsome new four story administration building. We pas-
sed the first barracks area. Instead of our old huts there were
fine-looking quarters for the prisoners on the high embank-
But I discovered it was reserved for the criminal prison-
ers. Religious or political prisoners had no such luck.
At Barracks Number Two I found the old familiar build-
ings, but the people were new. There were also modem
three-story buildings where the soldiers lived. Evidently they
planned to use Persin as a prison for a long time to come. The
work was quite varied and very hard, but because they
needed our labor they fed us one good meal a day . I met some
of my old friends back at Persin and they said, * ' Pastor, we're
so glad to see you again. We're sorry you're still in prison,
but if you have to be in prison we're glad you're back with
Over the years I had left Bible classes in every prison,
and several in Stara Zagora. But by now I had been impris-
oned for nearly 13 years and my heart ached to be back with
my family. Now I felt that my prison work was coming to a
close. With the time reduced by hard labor from 15 years to
13 years and two months, my time was almost up. To give
you an idea of how long 13 years are, when I was kidnapped
from my home, my daughter, Rhoda, was a little girl of 9.
Now she was a married woman and had a son of her own.
My life had a huge hole cut out of it. I could have been
released many times if I had agreed to be a puppet pastor, but
I could not. Many times I was offered the chance of freedom
by the DS if I would " conform" and help in the destruction
of Christianity in Bulgaria. There was even talk that I would
be made the head of a religious denomination with a fine
office and a good salary. I would have had to spy on the
members, the pastors, and they would spy on me. At one
time I had been battered and starved senseless where I was a
human tape recorder in the hands of the DS, but that only
increased my resolve that I would die before I would ever
willingly yield or compromise.
The Fruits of Imprisonment
I came to the end of my 13-year imprisonment with my
faith intact and stronger than ever; with my self-respect firm,
for I had never taken the easy way. And I had the great, great
joy of knowing that in every prison and every cell block I had
been in, I had left behind men who now knew Christ because
I was there. I knew that where I had been, Bible classes were
being conducted, and the fruit of my ministry remained. On
countless cell walls, the Scriptures I had scratched in would
be there to bring hope and comfort to the prisoners who
I knew that men I had never laid eyes on were serving
Christ because I had the opportunity of * 'tapping" the Gospel
to them. I don't label myself a hero or martyr, but as I neared
my release and looked back I could honestly and truthfully
say that it was worth those 13 years of torture, beatings,
starvation, suffering and separation from loved ones to be a
"pastor" to the thousands of communist prisoners my path
The prisoners were as happy for my release as I was. On
the evening of September 24, 1 waited during roll-call to be
told to pack my belongings, but it didn't happen. The cell
door was locked behind me. After half an hour, the key
turned in the lock and the guard came in.
"Haralan Popov," he said, "pack up your things. To-
morrow you are free/'
Everyone in the cell jumped up and cheered. I didn't
have much to pack. My prison clothes I divided among the
poorer prisoners. I had only my wearing apparel. That night I
didn't sleep a wink; I just waited for the break of day.
When the door opened next morning I said good-by to
my friends. Several I had led to Christ. They gathered around
me and one of them said, "Pastor, we will never forget you.
Thank you for what you gave to us in prison. Because of you,
we have found God here. " I could hardly restrain my tears.
The guard took me to the prison gate and soon a wagon
drawn by two horses came and drove me to freedom. It was 8
a.m. when we arrived at Headquarters. A thorough search
was made of my clothing and my suitcase, then I was issued
papers that would serve as my identification card until I had
time to get a regular one. I went out into the yard. No one was
about except the guard at the gate. I went to him to ask what I
should do next. I asked, "May I go out?"
"Yes, you are cleared. You may go," he said, laugh-
I walked past him a dream, suitcase in hand. Outside the
gate not a soul was in sight. After 13 years, a span of time in
which my baby girl had become a wife and mother, I was out
from behind prison bars. I wasn't really free, for I was still an
ex-prisoner and unlicensed evangelical pastor in a com-
munist land, but at least, the walls of the prison were behind
" I looked at them from the outside and thought of the
lonely nights of torture, the beatings I had suffered. I thought
of the starvation and the nine months of solitary confinement
in the airless pit.
I remembered the flowing Niagara of horrors and the
unbroken river of suffering. But I also remembered the men
who had found God.
As I stood looking at the prison walls behind me, I
thought, Yes, to leave behind men who know and serve
Christ, it was worth it all. And it truly was. I can honestly say
before God it was worth it all.
Little did I realize I was ending a period as a pastor to
men in communist prisons and was soon to become a pastor
to those whose churches had been closed.
I took a firm grip on my suitcase and started walking
down the main village street. When I arrived at the station it
was 9 a.m. and the train had left at 8. The next train didn't
leave until evening.
I couldn't think of staying in Belene so close to the
prison all day, so I set out on foot for a station further down
the railway line.
I arrived there, tired and dusty just before noon after a
three hour walk, and found a train leaving within 30 minutes
which passed through my home village. It was a journey that
would take only a day, but one which but for the hand of God
over 13 years, I would never have lived to make.
It was, for me, no less a miracle-journey than that of the
Children of Israel.
As I sat on the train, slowly chugging its way across the
green, flat plains of our country, I looked out the window and
prayed, God help me to serve You as faithfully in freedom as
I tried to do in prison. Don't let the easier circumstances
lessen my dedication.
I would rather be truly faithful in prison than let the
easier life outside weaken my faith. I need not have had any
fear. Things were almost as bad outside.
I arrived at the station in my home town of Krasno
Gradiste around 8 p.m. and walked half a mile down the
dusty road of the village to a small, thatched-roof house on
the edge of town where my uncle and aunt lived.
I knocked on the door. It opened and my aunt took one
look at me and cried out, "Haralan, is it really you?" This
wasn't just an exclamation of surprise. It was a serious
question, for prison had brought such visible changes in me I
often was not recognized by old friends.
I had gone into prison a young pastor in the prime of life,
I came out broken in health, bowed over and a mere shadow
of the man I once was.
My prison years had leaped the gap from relative youth
to being a man now physically elderly.
"It is you!" My aunt exclaimed as my uncle came
hurrying from the other room to see what the commotion was
all about. He hugged me saying, "Haralan, never in all our
lives did we expect to see you again. ' ' He stood back looking
me over, "What has happened to you?"
Then it dawned on me that I must have looked really
awful! I had long ago become used to my "new appear-
ance," but my uncle still thought of me as I appeared four-
teen years ago when he last saw me. He couldn't disguise the
dismay on his face, though he tried.
Poor uncle! He tried so hard to lift my spirits, but I
would steal a glance at him and catch him looking at me with
sad eyes. The next thing I knew, I was saying, "Uncle, don't
worry about me. The worst is over. God has been with me
and in many ways it's been worthwhile."
My aunt looked scoldingly at my uncle and said, "Now
look at you! You were going to encourage Haralan and it's
ended up with you down in the dumps and him having to
encourage you!" I couldn't help but laugh.
Two days later there was a knock at the door and there
stood Ladin, my younger brother! He grabbed me and
hugged me. Ladin is big and strong, much stronger than he
looks, and I was like a matchstick. "Ladin," I said, "take it
easy or you'll finish what the prison started!"
"Haralan," he said, with tears of joy brimming in his
eyes, "it's so good to see you! So many times I thought you'd
never make it. " Ladin had good reason for his doubts. After
his own five years of imprisonment he brought food to me in
prison whenever it was permitted and saw me there. Every
time the authorities permitted food to be brought, Ladin was
right there. "Good old Ladin," I said, "you stuck by me all
the way. Next to the Lord's faithfulness, you helped me
Around dusk, Ladin and I went for a walk down the
small tree-lined main street of the village. It gave us a chance
to talk. We stopped in an empty park in the middle of the
village and sat on the single, unpainted park bench. Ladin
told me how, after his five years' imprisonment, he was now
barred from his pulpit for life. He explained how he had been
ministering as an "underground pastor" and of the many
times he had been arrested and beaten for his work since his
release from prison. I had led Ladin to Christ myself when he
was on the verge of committing suicide many years before.
Now, hearing of his own torture and present ordeal I asked,
"Ladin, in all those years in prison, did you ever resent me
for leading you to the Lord since that led to your torture?"
"No/' he replied, "never. Not for one moment!" And
from the firm tone of his voice I knew he really meant it.
From what Ladin told me as we sat there, it appeared
that in my 13 years absence, the entire country had become
one vast "prison"; that I had just passed from a smaller
prison into a larger prison.
"Haralan," Ladin said quietly, "things are very, very
bad for all the believers. A great change has taken place in
Bulgaria. Many country churches have been closed and the
city churches are controlled by the communists, with their
own men in the pulpits and the Secret Police in every meet-
ing. But there is a large body of believers who haven't bowed
their knee to Baal yet and we'll never give in. We're meeting
in barns and homes and any place else we can meet."
"Ladin," I replied, "it sounds just like what I did in
prison these 13 years. It looks like I'll be able to put that
experience to good use now."
We sat silently on the park bendi, each lost in his own
thoughts, watching the squirrels playing on the ground while
the evening wind grew chilly. We said little as we made our
way back to our uncle's house, each deep in his own
As we walked along, the evening wind had now become
quite cold. A storm was building up in the North and it
seemed an ominous portent of things to come.
* * *
But God's hand was also upon us. He had been with me
through conditions which stagger the imagination and He
would still be with me.
The first "miracle" after my release was when I was
given a "Resident's Permit" for Sofia, our capital city, and
received police permission to go there to get my identifica-
I don't know how I got it. To have a "Resident's
Permit" to live in Sofia today means what Roman citizenship
meant to Paul. Sofia was the heart of everything and many
Bulgarians would have given much money to get such a
permit but couldn't. For in Bulgaria, Russia and other com-
munist lands, the communists try to control every movement
of the people.
You must have an "Internal Passport" even to move
about the country. You don't just pick where you want to
live. You live where the communists say and you most when
So never in a million years could I have arranged a
resident's permit for Sofia. But God arranged it, using the
communist officials to do it. He still had a plan for my life.
I said, "Thank You, Lord, I know You've got work for
me to do in Sofia," and went on my way there hoping to find
a small place to live.
ButI was both an "ex-prisoner" and an "unregistered"
evangelical pastor. Being just one of those things was enough
to put the "mark of Cain" on a man for life. And I was both!
As soon as the housing authorities saw from my papers what I
was, I was sent away.
I looked everywhere on my own but couldn't find a
place to live — not even a small room, much less an apart-
ment. Some of my former church members risked trouble by
inviting me to live with them for a while. But not wanting to
cause them danger, I kept looking. I prayed, "God, even the
sparrows have a nest. I know You have a place for me
And He did. I soon found a deserted, empty half-attic
which was used to store trunks and suitcases. It was tiny,
dusty and filled with cobwebs. The rain leaked right through
the roof. It had no heating or water and was so tiny I had room
only for a small bed, a tiny desk and a chair. The Christians
who saw it were surprised that I was able to live in such a little
nook, but I was happy with it. I told one of my former church
members, "In prison I lived for years in a space as small as
this with 7 or 8 others."
I could tell from his doubtful expression, he was having
a hard time believing me. It was so tiny.
When it rained, the rain dripped through holes in the
roof and because my small bed itself covered most of the tiny
room, the water dripped mostly on the bed. A single window
pane was broken out making it very cold. But when I taped it
with paper, the light was cut off, so I decided I would rather
be cold than be in darkness, so I left it broken out and spent
the winter days huddled up with blankets around me. But the
room was a gift from God and I thanked Him for it.
The first night that I spent in my cold attic room was
stormy, and rain dripped all over my bed. I lay huddled in the
blankets given me by Christians, thinking of Ruth, Rhoda
and Paul in Sweden and what they were doing that night.
Would I ever see them again, I wondered. At last I drifted off
into a fitful, troubled sleep.
Amazing Old "Babba" Maria
There was only one consolation to my attic "home."
That was "Babba" Maria. "Babba" is our affectionate
Bulgarian name for "Grandma" and "Babba" Maria was a
very wrinkled, but vital, energetic 72-year-old Christian lady
who lived on a lower floor. She became like a * 'mother hen' '
Babba Maria was a remarkable old lady and one of the
most unforgettable people I've ever met. She was an irre-
pressible "take charge" woman who seemed to really be-
lieve that her heavenly Father owned the cattle on a thousand
She had been a Christian worker since her youth and had
an irrepressible, contagious, overflowing faith in God that
uplifted everyone around her. What a spiritual giant and
pillar of strength Babba Maria was! Nothing ever seemed to
get her down. When things looked blackest, you could count
on old Babba Maria to grin and say, "Now, who's on the
Throne? God, or the devil?** And everyone's spirits would
pick up. She was a woman who walked closely with the Lord
and who had an unconquerable faith. No one who knew her
will ever forget her, especially the communists who once or
twice tried to stop one of her prayer meetings.
"Now look here, young man," she sternly lectured a
young policeman one day, "God told me to pray. Now who
should I obey, you or God?" The young policeman just
stammered something and walked off. She was never
"Haralan," she said one day, "you get right down out
of that attic . We 're going to start a prayer meeting and you 're
going to lead it!"
No one ever dared say "no" to Babba Maria, so I
started prayer meetings and Bible classes in her small apart-
ment. I quoted Scriptures from the 47 chapters I had
memorized in prison and ministered the Word of God to them
and in many ways it was similar to my secret ministry in
prison. When I had finished Babba Maria said, "ThankGod!
We don't have any Bibles, but God has given us a 'Bible'
living up in that attic."
From that night on, we met, prayed and I quoted the
Scriptures. It was blissful, sweet fellowship. There is noth-
ing sweeter than the fellowship of true believers with one
another, when surrounded by difficulty and suffering. I
realize now the fellowship Paul missed so much when he
wrote to the believers from his prison in Rome.
Soon after the meetings started I received a great gift
from God. The news came that Ruth had been able to join a
Swedish tourist group coming to Bulgaria and would be on
her way to see me soon ! How my heart jumped at that news ! I
had seen Ruth the last time eleven years ago in prison. Babba
Maria was as happy as I was and said, "See, Haralan! I told
you everything was possible with God."
As the day of Ruth's arrival neared, I was as happy as a
child. I couldn't sleep at night and lay in my attic bed, the rain
dripping down from the leaky roof, and thought about the last
time I had seen Ruth eleven years ago. In those eleven years I
had never allowed myself the luxury of thinking of seeing her
or the children again. Such hopes had driven strong men
mad. But as Babba Maria kept saying, "God is still on the
The great day finally came. Five hours before Ruth's
plane was due, I was at the airport anxiously waiting. The
plane was an hour and 14 minutes late and that was the
longest hour and 14 minutes I've ever spent. It seemed like
114 years! Finally the flight arrived and I met Ruth just
outside the customs hall. "Ruth," I shouted, "over here."
"Haralan," she called back, Soon we were in each
other's arms. Eleven long years of no hope of ever seeing her
again and here she was! "Haralan!" she gasped, and then
choked back the words. I guess I still looked a sight.
We returned to Babba Maria's and she fixed tea forus as
Ruth told me of Paul and Rhoda and her husband. My heart
was so big I couldn't contain it as I heard of Paul's good
grades in school and how little Rhoda was now grown up and
had married a fine Christian doctor. Ruth showed me the
latest pictures of the children and I laughed and cried at
almost the same time.
"Haralan," Ruth said "I'm with the tourist group now.
It's the only way I could get into the country and I've got to
go back with them soon, but as soon as Paul graduates, gets a
job and is able to care for himself I'm coming back here to be
"Ruth, this is no life for you," I replied. "I don't know
what the future holds for me, but I don't want to see you
living under these conditions. It's better you stay in Sweden.
My future is too uncertain."
"Haralan, you're my husband," she tearfully replied,
"and I want to be with you wherever you are. I don't care
what it's like or how the conditions are."
The day of Ruth's return to Sweden came all too soon
and I took her on the sad journey to the airport. We had a
tearful farewell, never knowing if we would see each other
again. She flew off to Sweden and I returned to my attic room
alone, in deep sadness with my heart breaking.
"God, " I prayed as I fell on the bed, "give me strength.
All my life, I have tried only to do Your will. You didn't fail
me in prison. Give me strength now."
In the depth of despair as I cried out from my heart, I felt
the presence of God fill my room as I had in the prison cells
throughout 13 years. I prayed, "Lord, my life is here with
my people/' I then fell into a deep sleep.
Church Spies Spying on Spies
With the excitement of Ruth's visit over I plunged into
the secret prayer meetings and Bible study groups in earnest.
Gradually the enormity of the tragedy that had overwhelmed
our churches in my 13 years absence hit me full force.
Everything that Ladin told me was true — and more.
My heart broke as I saw what had happened. Churches
that had had 200 or 300 members were now down to 15 or 16!
Where once the church had four, five or more meetings a
week, now there was only one. Pastors who refused to
"cooperate" in the strangulation of the church from within
were removed and "cooperative" pastors were put in their
Sunday schools were forbidden and DS spies were in
every meeting. They wanted to know: who was there, what
was said, who prayed too fervently, was there any attempt to
"proselyte" new converts?
They needn't have worried because, by and large, the
"new pastors" they had installed were over-zealous in en-
forcing the religious laws.
A police apparatus of total control had reached its
octopus-like tentacles around the churches in a deadly em-
To make sure of total control of all that was said and
done in the churches, the DS had spies in every church
meeting to spy on their own approved "new pastors." Spies
were spying on the spies! Still, many true Christians re-
mained in such churches to keep some sort of witness alive.
Among these Christians, there was a joke going around that
the DS spies were the most faithful church members of all.
They never missed a meeting!
The DS spy in each church tried to keep his identity
secret, but the true believers soon found out. The believers
asked themselves two questions: who was at almost every
meeting? and who seemed to listen most attentively to every
empty, dead word spoken by the communist-installed new
pastors? Whoever fitted that description best usually turned
out to be the DS spy!
But the communists' "wearing down" tactics were
beginning to tell. The technique used was simple. As soon as
the "pastor" could reduce the number of believers in the
church, the authorities stepped in and declared there was
"not enough interest" and ordered the church closed and the
building put to "more profitable use." The churches in the
countryside, towns and villages were especially hard hit,
with many closed. Using this clever DS tactic, it never
looked like outside persecution. The authorities could always
boast "the church was closed for lack of interest."
In each major city, one or two churches were left open
but were also "pastored" by men approved by the DS.
Foreigners were brought there and shown "freedom of re-
ligion" at work. Still a faithful "remnant" remained in even
the official churches, determined to maintain their witness
and keep the church doors open, so the authorities couldn't
say there was "no interest."
Then a new blow hit the believers remaining in the
churches. The young men, one by one, began getting sum-
monses to report to the local DS headquarters. There they
would be asked, "Why haven't you taken the hint and left the
church? There's no place for you there. We want you out and
if you don't take the hint, we'll find a way to make ourselves
better understood . ' '
Most of the young men refused to give up. One by one,
they were ordered back to the DS office at night where they
were beaten in such a way that no visible marks would show.
The beatings lasted until 5 or 6 a.m., then the men were sent
home saying, "If you tell one person, even your wife, what
has happened it will mean your life. Be back here at 10 again
Many of our finest young Christians had to leave their
families each night after dinner to report for the nightly
They suffered in silence for Christ, telling no one.
These secret, night-time beatings of anyone who
seemed to be "zealous" in their faith in Christ were a regular
night-time ordeal for many of our people — just as they are
today in Russia, Bulgaria and many other communist lands.
44 Officially" it doesn't happen but thousands of men
today are silently carrying this burden for Christ.
Faced with the closed or communist-controlled
churches, we followed the pattern of the Early Church in
In the larger cities the Christians began forming groups
meeting and worshiping in believers' homes scattered around
the city, always changing the meeting place to avoid dis-
Such meetings are dangerous because in all communist
lands, it's illegal to have any religious service outside the
four walls of a "registered" church. The secret churches
desperately needed Bible teaching and the same full range of
pastoral help as any "normal" church. So I dedicated my
years to the Secret Church and became very active going to
other believers' houses throughout Sofia conducting meet-
ings, prayer sessions and Bible classes. My schedule was full
of such meetings.
A meeting would be called in a Christian's home for
around midnight. The two favorite hours were midnight and
around 6 p.m. For midnight meetings people started "drift-
ing" in by twos and threes around 8 p.m., a full four hours
before the meeting was due to begin. Never more than 3 or 4
came at a time so as not to arouse attention. A few minutes
after the arrival of the first two or three, two or three more
would "drop in." A few more minutes would pass and the
next two or three would come. In this way a sizable group
could gather without attracting attention. I was usually the
last to arrive as I often hurried from one group to another and
couldn't afford the long waiting period before the meeting
began. By midnight, on arrival at the believer's house I
almost always found the streets deserted and the neighbor-
hood in absolute stillness. All shutters were closed and lock-
ed. You wouldn't think a person was around, but entering I
often found twenty-five to thirty people packed and jammed
inside waiting for the meeting to start.
The men usually stood along the walls. The women sat
on beds or makeshift chairs, and the younger people squatted
on the floor. Sometimes, we took the risk of singing a hymn
(we sang very softly to keep from being overheard). Tears
would flow as we met and sang the beautiful songs of the
Church just as the believers of the Early Church.
"My dear brothers and sisters in Christ," I would
begin. "We meet here to worship our Lord and hear His
Word. He is here with us this night." On and on I would
continue. It was dangerous to meet, so when we did meet, the
meetings lasted up to 3 or 4 hours, ending in prayer for one
another and all the other fellow-Christians over our land and
in Russia meeting tonight as we were.
With the meeting finally over, we had to leave the same
way we came, by two and threes. Again, I would be the first
to leave due to my heavy schedule. It took as long to disperse
as it did to gather. After well-attended meetings Christians
would still be leaving at 6 or 7 o'clock in the morning as
people were filling the street to go to work.
Such small churches were springing up all over the
country as the persecution drove the believers to this depth
of sincerity and dedication, willing to risk their homes, their
jobs and even their freedom to assemble and worship to-
We always improvised and found new ways to meet,
teach the Word of God and fellowship together. I soon
discovered that one of the best times to have meetings was on
birthdays because it was common and safe for groups to get
together on birthdays. There was no danger of discovery and
no need to gather secretly or sing in hushed voices. After all,
it was only a "birthday party." Birthdays soon became one
of the favorite occasions for the home churches to meet and
Birthdays gave such a wonderful opportunity that many
Christian families with three or four members in the family
began having fifteen or twenty "birthdays' a year 1 1 myself
had so many "birthdays' * that if I were as many years old as I
had birthdays, I'd be almost Methuselah's age! We had the
"oldest" Christians in the world in the secret churches.
Weddings and funerals also provided wonderful oppor-
tunities for us to openly preach the Gospel. One day the
wedding ceremony, at which I could not officiate since I was
an "unregistered' ' pastor, took about ten minutes. Afterward
someone said, "All right, Pastor Popov, come on up and
wish the bride and groom happiness." I went up to the front
of the room and "wished them happiness' ' for three hours ! I
preached, quoted from God's Word and taught the Scriptures
just as if I were back in my pulpit before my arrest.
What wonderful times these weddings were!
After one wedding I had preached an unusually long
time, and everyone sat listening to every word. Afterward
one of the men came up and said, "Haralan, I'll bet you're
always praying someone will hurry up and get married just so
you can have a meeting." His daughter, about 16, was
standing beside him. I told her, "Now, Larissa, I'm counting
on your wedding next year. Don't let me down." She
blushed as her father laughed.
In countless ways we improvised and found new ways
of meeting, worshiping and spreading the Gospel secretly.
The Lord was wonderfully with me many times. Once as I
taught a group of believers at midnight in a home, we heard
footsteps coming down the sidewalk and stopping just out-
side the door. One of the men looked through the shutters and
whispered, "It's a policeman.' * We began to pray fervently
in our hearts. Soon we could hear him walking away.
Of course, sometimes the secret police managed to
discover a secret meeting and the leader was arrested, the
names of those attending were taken down and the men
summoned to the police station headquarters for interroga-
tion and sometimes for all night "instruction sessions" of
beatings in the DS basement.
But a beautiful thing began to happen in the Secret
Church. As the fires of persecution grew, they burned away
the chaff and stubble and left only the golden wheat. The
suffering purified the Church and united the believers in a
wonderful spirit of brotherly love such as must have existed
in the Early Church. Petty differences were put aside.
Brethren loved and cared for one another and carried one
another's burdens. There were no nominal or "lukewarm"
believers. It made no sense to be a halfhearted Christian
when the price for faith was so great. There came a great
spiritual depth and richness in Christ I have never seen in the
times before when we were free.
It was as if the spirit of the Early Church had descended
in all its beauty, fullness and love upon the believers of the
Secret Church. Every man, woman and youth was forced to
4 * count the cost" and decide if serving Christ was worth the
suffering. And to the communists' great regret, this was the
healthiest thing they could have done for the Church, for the
insincere gave up but the true Christians became aware of
what Christ meant to them and became more dedicated than
When believers were discovered meeting secretly,
some were sent off in exile to remote parts of our country. On
arrival they began to spread the Word of God there as they
had back home, just as the disciples of the Early Church,
driven by persecution, spread the Word of God to the far
corners of the then known world.
Christian history has come "full circle" in the Suffering
Church in communist lands today.
The Bible Scavenger
Working now in this Church, I began to face the
tragedies of Christians without the Word of God,
No one can begin to describe in words the empty void in
the heart of a Christian denied God's Word. Nothing could be
more "unnatural." It is like a fish without water, or a bird
without air. Christians are creatures of Gods Word and must
have that Word to grow spiritually.
One day on the street, I met an old man in very dirty
clothes, who approached me saying, "Pastor, you don't
know me, but I know you and I have something here I want to
show you." I was a little suspicious of him, thinking he
might be with the DS. But then I decided none of the proud
men in the Secret Police would have appeared this dirty, so
he must be for real. He pulled open his tattered coat and
showed me a ragged, partly burned book in terrible condi-
tion. It was so soiled and dirty, I couldn't even tell at first
what kind of book it was. He then flipped open the pages and
I saw that it was a Bible! It was partly burned and had sections
missing — but it was a Bible!
Taking him by the arm and leading him off to the side so
we wouldn't be overheard, I asked, "Where did you get
"At the Sofia trash dump," he replied.
"At the trash dump!" I exclaimed.
"How . . . ?" But before I could finish the question he
interrupted, "I dig around trash dumps for anything of value
and sell it. That's how I make my living. One day I was
poking under a pile of rubbish and I saw an old partly-burned
book. I picked it up and found it was a half-burned Bible. It
dawned on me that this must be one of the Bibles they are
taking away from the people and destroying. I decided I must
have found where they were dumping the Bibles and I figured
if that's where they burned and destroyed them, that's where
I would go to get them back."
He went on, "Since then, I've been going out there
because they know me there. But now, I get only enough
other junk to be a * cover' for my real purpose of getting
Bibles. I'm only after the Bibles from now on and getting
them back in circulation. I figure if the authorities don't want
them around, they must be good."
I couldn't help but laugh inside. This kind of humor was
so typical of people living under communism. "And be-
sides," he went on, "I can make a living stealing these
Bibles back from the ones who stole them in the first place.
"Here, Pastor," he whispered, handing me the Bible.
"I want you to have this for your work." I started to thank
him as he turned to walk away.
"Where are you going?" I asked. "I want to thank you
"No," he replied, "I've got to be going."
I knew where he was going. I never saw him again, but
from time to time, I saw partly burned or very soiled parts of
Bibles in the underground meetings and I knew the old
"Bible scavenger" was still at work.
How just! The communists stole the Bibles from the
people. He stole them from the communists and got the
Bibles back into circulation!
I preached and taught the Word of God in the many
small home churches which were now meeting regularly
around Sofia. The Bible meant so much to me, because I only
knew 47 chapters by heart and missed the others.
After a late night meeting with an underground group of
believers, a young girl about sixteen years old came up to me.
I recognized her as a new Christian who had just recently
joined this Secret Church.
"Pastor Popov," she said, looking at the partly burned
Bible the old man had given me, "could I borrow your Bible
until tomorrow morning?"
"Well, yes certainly," I replied.
She took the Bible and, sure enough, the next morning
she brought it back to me at Babba Maria's. She thanked me
and just before leaving turned and asked, "Pastor, could I
borrow it again after the meeting tonight?' '
"Of course," I said, curious about why she wanted it
overnight. The next morning, she again returned it promptly,
thanked me and asked, "Where will you be speaking to-
I told her and she replied, ' 'If I come there tonight, can I
borrow it again and return it early tomorrow morning?' *
I was dying of curiosity and couldn't stand it any longer.
" Yes, of course you can, but why? What are you doing with
it? Are you sitting up all night reading it?' '
"No, Pastor," she replied, "if I take it home and just
read it, it will be gone tomorrow morning. I take it home and
copy as many verses as I can by hand from midnight to dawn .
If I have a good night, I can get several whole chapters
done!" she said excitedly.
"One day," she said beaming with pride, "if I keep it
up, I'll have a Bible of my own! Won't that be wonderful,
I was deeply touched, and told her, "You can have it
tonight and every night and during the day too if you want
until you get your Bible done." She clasped her hands
together, almost jumping for excitement, "Oh, Pastor, thank
After she left, my heart was broken. Here was a little
girl so excited over the prospects of working countless
nights, all night long, copying the Scriptures so one day she
would have her own Bible. How hungry and desperate my
people were for God's Word! This was happening all over
Bulgaria. And what about those who didn't have even a
partly-burned Bible to copy? It is a great tragedy of our times.
Secret "Bible Factory"
One day I heard about a clandestine "Bible factory" set
up in the back room of a Christian's home just outside Sofia,
and made my way out there. Passing through a small rear
door so low I had to stoop down, I entered a well-lit room,
with heavy drapes carefully placed over the windows. Inside
I found a long table and seven people sitting around it hard at
work. Most were young people, with an elderly man busily
copying away down at the end of the table. They didn't even
look up as I was led into the room. I had walked into an
underground "Bible factory. ' '
It was an incredible sight which so well shows the plight
of Christians in communist lands without Scriptures.
They had somehow secured a Bible and carefully cut it
apart in books. Each "work station'* at the table was as-
signed to copy that one book over and over again, by slow,
painstaking, hand-lettering. At other "work stations,"
others were busy with other books such as John, Luke, and
Acts. When one group was tired, they were relieved by
others in relays so the work wouldn't stop. The hand copying
continued 12 hours a day. When a book of the Bible was
finished, it was put together with the other books, and
stitched into a complete Bible.
When the completed, hand-lettered Bible was carefully
bound in leather, it was speeded on its way to a group of
Christians in a Suffering Church somewhere in Bulgaria.
This "Bible factory" produced 25 hand- written Bibles a
year — always at great risk and incredibly long hours of
Though I never saw them, I heard of other such "Bible
factories" as our fellow Christians of the Persecuted Church
desperately worked to produce Scriptures for the Bible-
One evening I had finished a meeting of an underground
Bible class in a believer's home when one of the Christians
handed me a piece of cardboard with typed pages inside,
saying, "Look at this, Pastor." I examined it and it was a
gospel book entitled Calvary's Road by Roy Hession. But it
was a completely typewritten book, with the typed pages
bound in by needle and thread between cardboard covers.
I asked, "Where did you get this? This is wonderful!"
He explained, "There's a crippled man who speaks
English living on the other side of town. He has an ancient,
broken-down typewriter. He gets these Bible-teaching books
and since he's crippled, he spends all his time translating and
typing them out a few carbon copies at a time. As soon as he's
finished, he starts typing the whole book all over again. He
makes 4 to 5 carbon copies each time he retypes it all. His
typed books are being circulated from hand to hand all over
I secured his address and went over to his tiny apart-
ment. As I entered the first thing I saw were stacks of paper
piled high all over his apartment. I couldn't believe it. To buy
such a quantity of paper would immediately attract the atten-
tion of the Secret Police who would start asking questions.
He saw the astonishment on my face and laughed, answering
my question even before I could ask it, "Pastor, where
there's a will, there's a way. I have Christians all over Sofia
going out for me, each one buying a little paper here and a
little there in small quantities. They all bring it here and I use
it to type out these books I've translated."
On and on he went, explaining how he worked as he
showed me one book after another in the process of transla-
tion. Then he showed me a stack of finished books ready to
go. His little apartment was a veritable underground Chris-
tian bookstore right here in the capital of communist Bul-
Though he couldn't get out of the apartment, the books
and literature he produced on his old typewriter in this tiny
crowded apartment in Sofia were bringing countless bless-
ings to hundreds and possibly thousands all across Bulgaria.
Such heroic efforts of the Secret Church touched me
deeply. I saw sacrifice beyond measure but even such heroic
sacrifice and efforts as these couldn't begin to meet the need
of our people for Bibles, hymn books, gospels and literature
for our youth. All these heroic efforts produced only a mere
trickle of what was needed.
The * 'Bible factories" worked day and night, but at
most produced only 25 to 30 Bibles a year.
Young Christians, such as the young girl, borrowed any
Bible available and desperately copied them all night long
but this was not enough. One old typewriter in the hands of a
crippled man produced some books but it was only a drop in
the bucket compared to the need.
Again and again, young Christians approached me say-
ing, "Pastor, we need a Bible. Isn't there one somewhere for
My heart broke seeing the need of the suffering
churches. All across the land, tragedy was stalking the
Church. My heart wept as I saw young Christians begging for
the use of a Bible for just a few hours.
And what about the coming generation? We couldn't
possibly teach them God's Word without God's Word. We
saw youth carrying beautiful, full color books on
atheism — and we had nothing to give them. I lay in my
attic room praying, deeply distressed. Something had to be
done. We could never meet the need among ourselves by
hand-copying Bibles. It was clear someone had to get help
from the outside.
It became more and more apparent that we had to have
help from our fellow-Christians outside the Iron Curtain.
Someone had to get out to the Free World and awaken our
fellow-Christians to the need and somehow get Bibles in.
Someone had to speak for the Persecuted Churches which
had no voice. Several of the people urged that I must be the
one. "After all," they pointed out, "you have a family in
Sweden and have the best apparent 'reason' for asking to be
permitted to leave Bulgaria. ' ' And, of course, I did long to be
united with my family.
My Urgent Mission
It was heartbreaking to think about leaving my country
and the believers there, many of whom I had personally led to
the Lord and to whom I had been both spiritual father and
In my mind I had prepared myself to stay with my
people. But many of them kept urging me to go, recognizing
that only by making our needs known could we ever get the
help we needed. Outwardly, they stressed, it would appear to
the authorities that I wanted only to join my family which was
perfectly natural. Secretly, my real and most important mis-
sion would be to get help for the Persecuted Church — a
mission far more important than family desires.
Instead of having Ruth return here as planned, I now
knew by all means I must get out to the Free World. Babba
Maria and Christians across Bulgaria began to pray that God
would open the doors and I would be able to undertake this
mission. Prayer meetings were held all over Bulgaria. I got
word to Rum asking her to write letters to the Swedish
government to put pressure on the Bulgarian authorities,
asking approval for me to come there. I applied for permis-
sion to leave and was immediately turned down. Still the-
One day I received a letter from the Minister of Internal
Affairs ordering me to report to their office. Going out the
door Babba Maria stopped me and said, "Brother Haralan,
it's your passport. You're going to get permission to go!"
When I arrived at the office, I was brusquely ordered
into the office of the Chief Deputy — the second highest
official of that department. He was a large, fat man with hard,
determined features , not a man to be toyed with . As I entered
and sat down, he sat staring at me. I could tell he was very
angry. His hands were almost shaking with barely concealed
wrath. Suddenly he shouted, " Popov, your daughter in Swe-
den has written to the Russian Premier asking for your
I couldn't believe my ears.
The Russian Premier!
Rhoda was really going to the top! The letter had been
sent here to Sofia and was on the desk before me. The Chief
Deputy picked it up and waved it at me. "Do you think this is
going to help your case?" he shouted. "If you do you're
sadly mistaken." With his face flushed red with anger, the
Chief Deputy pointed his finger at me and said, "Popov, you
are to write your family, telling them never to write another
letter on your behalf. You must never make out another
application to leave!"
With his voice rising in anger, he shouted, "I am
warning you for the last time, Popov. I am in charge of these
matters and I will never give you a passport. Tow' // leave over
my dead body! You're both an ex -prisoner and a pastor. Just
being one of those things would forever bar you from leav-
ing. But you are both\ Now get out of here and don't ever
come back. " I almost staggered out the door. I was crushed.
All hope seemed gone. Who would speak for the suffering
churches? Who would tell our story to awaken the sleeping
Christians in the Free World?
Next to these questions , the question of never seeing my
family again palled into insignificance. It was purely person-
al. I had a message from the Persecuted Church to the free
world. How could I ever fulfill it now when the Chief Deputy
himself stood in the way? Walking back to my attic room, I
was deep in despair. "God/' I cried out in my heart, "what
will happen now to our youth who are asking for Scriptures?
To our people who don't have the Bible? Where will help
When I reached home, I found Babba Maria and two
women waiting for me to return with the good news. My
mission was vital to all the Christians of the Suffering
Church, and they were all praying! They knew what was at
stake. I told Babba Maria and the others what had happened;
how I had been turned down once and for all by the Chief
Deputy himself who had sworn I would leave over his dead
"Ha!" Babba Maria laughed, "I don't care one bit what
he said. It is vital that you go." She went on, "God has told
me you are going and it will be very soon. No one can stand in
the way of God."
That left me speechless. On one hand I was deeply
distressed, but on the other hand Babba Maria was a deeply
spiritual woman. I climbed the stairs to my attic room still
depressed, but behind me Babba Maria yelled up after me,
"Now get your bags packed, Haralan. You're going to
Sweden!" Old Babba didn't doubt God for a moment! So
typical of the irrepressible faith of Christian women behind
the Iron Curtain! She kept on praying for God to do the
impossible and open the doors for me to leave.
Then the miracle she prayed for happened.
Just a short time later, the Bulgarian Communist Party
held its annual conference. Quite unexpectedly a great argu-
ment broke out among the "comrades" and the heads began
to roll. Several top and middle-level communist officials
were booted out, including the Minister for Internal
Affairs — and along with him the very Chief Deputy who
swore to me he would never allow me to go!
Now, just a few days after those threats, he was our of
office himself! Little did he know that it was little old Babba
Maria who "prayed him out of a job"! When I heard the
news, I rushed to tell Babba Maria, "Babba, he doesn't
know it but he's probably the first high communist official
ever prayed out of office!" She just grinned and said, "Well,
he may not be the last one either."
He was sure I would never leave, but he hadn't counted
on God's plan. No one can stand in God's way.
On December 28, a letter came for me saying, ' ' You are
asked to report to the Passport office. Your passport to travel
to Sweden to join your family is being granted." How we
praised God! The miracle had happened.
Babba Maria just smiled and said, "Haralan, I don't
like to tell you I told you so, but I told you so! God never fails
Now go get your passport!"
It is absolutely unheard of that any former prisoner
would be released, much less a prisoner who was also an
"outlawed" evangelical pastor. It's absolutely unpre-
cedented in our own country or in Russia. But God had an
urgent mission for me in the Free World, and when God has
spoken no one can interfere. When a chief communist official
personally swore I would never leave, God removed him.
Christians all over Bulgaria fasted and prayed for this
miracle — and it happened.
Old Babba Maria's words were fulfilled.
I went to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and showed the
letter to a clerk. She told me to go to the National Bank and
pay a small fee, and to report back with the receipt and get my
passport. Ten minutes later I was in the National Bank.
Everything I had to do was arranged for promptly — I didn't
even have to stand in line for hours. God took care of all the
On the following day, the Saturday before New Year's,
I received my passport. Next, I received my visa from the
Swedish Consul, then took my passport back to the Passport
office to get final clearance to travel abroad. I told them that a
flight was leaving on Monday, December 31st, for Sweden,
and I was advised to come back on Sunday at 1 1 a.m. to get
my passport. Since December 3 1st was New Year's Eve and
a holiday, people worked on Sunday to make up for it. Here,
too, I saw God's hand, enabling me to leave promptly.
Otherwise, I would have had to wait ten days for the next
flight to Sweden and who knows who would have seen the
documents showing Haralan Popov the "unreformed"
evangelical pastor and ex-prisoner was being released? It
violated every rule the communists had!
I returned to the passport office at nine on the Sunday
morning. At eleven, they began handing out passports to
those waiting, but mine was not among them. When I in-
quired I was told, "We are just giving out the passports to
communist countries now. You must wait." Noon came. I
thought to myself, Have the Secret Police changed their
At 12:30 a man's voice called out, "Haralan Popov/' I
got up to go over praying, "Lord, Thy will be done."
"Haralan Popov, step over here," the voice called
again, "we have your pas sport ready." I got it and hurried to
the Balkan Travel Bureau to get my ticket for the plane next
day. Exactly at closing time, at 1 p.m., everything was
cleared — passport, visa, and ticket were all in my hand.
God had made the impossible possible for He had an
urgent mission for me in the free world. All over the country
the underground churches received word that "Pastor Popov
is getting out. " Their prayers had been answered. There was
At 8:00 a.m. Monday, December 31 , 1962, 1 was at the
airport and the plane left at 10:00 a.m.
After leaving Sofia, we flew to Prague, then over East
Germany, touching down in East Berlin for half an hour. I
left the plane, but with communist guards around, I felt
prison walls still surrounded me there. Back on the plane I
asked the stewardess to tell me when we flew over the border
from East to West Germany. When we were over the border,
I lifted up a prayer of thanks to God that now I was really
outside prison walls.
Ten minutes before the ringing in of the New Year, the
plane touched down at Arlanda Airport in Stockholm. I have
no words to describe the reunion that followed. Ruth, Rhoda,
Paul and my son-in-law, Johani, and little grandson were
there. Four days before I had not known whether I would ever
see my family again in this life. Every long-standing com-
munist rule had been broken and a Chief Deputy of the
communist party had sworn I would leave over his dead
body, was suddenly out of office. Now I was here! Tears of
joy flowed freely. As I embraced Ruth I thought, Is this
true, or is it a dream?
It was true. I embraced Rhoda — Rhoda, the little
weeping girl I had last seen nearly 15 years ago crying,
4 'Daddy, Daddy," as I was led away. Paul who was only 4
when I was arrested was now almost a man and all these years
he had had no father. I tearfully clutched him. What a day of
reunion it was!
As we rode home from the airport in the bus, church
bells were ringing out the old year and ringing in the new.
Hearing them, reminded me of the church bells that Christ-
mas Eve at Persin when I was half-drowned and lying in the
frozen mud exhausted and waiting for death. They reminded
me of the 13 Christmases I had spent in prison cells, cold and
lonely. For me and my family was truly a New Year and a
But that new life has a mission: to speak for the perse-
cuted church I left behind the Iron Curtain. So after a short
period of recuperation and being with the children, I told
Ruth , ' * Honey , the time has come for me to do what I c ame to
do. The Christians are counting on me. I must not let them
Ruth understood. She always has.
Since then, I have been often away from home and my
family on a mission for my other family — the faithful
Persecuted Church which is struggling with empty hands to
serve Christ in Communist lands.
A Message From the Persecuted Church
My mission among you in the Free World is to awaken
the conscience of the Christians in the Free World to the
suffering and needs of our fellow-Christians behind the Iron
Curtain. They are today suffering for the faith just as did
Peter and Paul and the Christians of the Early Church.
Whether in Bulgaria or Russia or America, we are all
part of the same Body of Christ. We are all brothers and
sisters in Christ, children of the same God. Yet that part of
the Body of Christ in the Communist world is being tortured,
imprisoned and suffering as never before since the days of the
martyrs of the Early Church. Can you not feel their pain?
Recently, several members of the Persecuted Church in
Russia have died, including a twenty-year-old Christian boy,
Ivan Moiseyev, serving in the Soviet Army. Secret Police
gave the reason for his death as " natural causes" yet this
does not explain his bruised and mutilated body which was
exposed at the funeral because of the tradition to open the
coffin for a last look at the loved one.
These courageous Christians are always supposedly
ng from "natural causes." I, myself , have seen hundreds
of such natural deaths in prison due to the effects of starva-
tion, beatings and torture
Thousands arc today imprisoned for their faith in the
Soviet Union. Behind a carefully contrived image of religi-
ous freedom, the roll of Christian martyrs of our day grows
tragically longer Behind the current propaganda of Bibles
being printed in Communist lands, is the harsh fact that the
Communists control the distribution and these few Bibles are
chiefl) for propaganda purposes. Behind the contrived image
of toleration of belie nldren are being taken from
Christian parents for life and put into atheistic boarding
schools. Can you imagine the anguish of those parents who
have had their children taken away?
Even as this spiritual struggle rages behind the Iron
Curtain, as martyrs are dying for their faith, and as true
servants of God are arrested and have their children taken
from them for life, yet in the churches of the free world, one
can go for years without hearing one prayer for our suffering
brethren in Communist lands!
I have spoken around the world on behalf of the Suffer-
ing Church and I have often asked, * 'Who here has prayed for
the suffering Christians of the Suffering Church?" Always
the answer is almost no one!
It is a shame on the conscience of all free Christians.
We from communist lands are your brothers and sisters in
Christ. We are one body in Christ.
We ask for the Bibles and "tools of evangelism" we so
desperately need to keep the Word of God alive.
The tragic lack of Bibles is the greatest need in the
Communist lands today.
My people accept the suffering. They understand this is
But they don t understand why their brothers and sisters
in the free world seem to have forgotten them — even in
I am away from Ruth and the children speaking day and
night now on behalf of the Persecuted Church and asking free
Christians to pray for them.
It is our Christian duty before God to help the destitute,
suffering families of men imprisoned for their faith. We must
help them, and we have ways to do it.
I shall never forget how my own family almost starved
when I was imprisoned. The same tragedy is now happening
to many Christian families.
How can we sleep in peace at night, knowing the suffer-
ing they pass through? How can we read our Bibles and our
hearts not weep for these who have no Bible?
The message I bring to you from the Persecuted Church
"Do not forget us."
4 Tray for us."
"Give us the Bibles, the tools to work with, and we will
use them for Christ."
I remember so well one of the dark solitary confinement
cells at Persin. On the gray cement cell wall was a faded
inscription scratched onto the surface by some unknown
Christian who had been there before me. That inscription
read: "Has even God forgotten me?"
That anguished cry etched onto the prison wall is the cry
coming from our fellow Christians of the Persecuted Church
in communist lands today.
No, God hasn't forgotten them. And neither must we.
This is my message to you from the Persecuted Church.
If it is heard, and if my people receive the Bibles and
help they need, my years in Communist prisons will not have
been in vain.
Ruth, Paul and Rhoda join me in this firm belief.
Still Calling From Macedonia
My story is told but the tale goes on. It must. Mace-
donia, the ancient Bulgaria, still calls. No, it cries out:
"Come over and help us."
The tale must go on because no end is in sight for the
dark night that yet covers the Communist-dominated
countries — the Macedonias of the modern world. Sin has
multiplied its tentacles. Those who would dare stand true for
Christ are all but strangled by the grip of the Communist
monster which will not rest until it has crushed the very
breath from the Suffering Church.
In November of 1977 the Communists celebrated the
sixtieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. In Wash-
ington, as Americans and Russians and dignitaries from a
score or more of nations raised their glasses to toast the most
momentous event in modern history, about two hundred
worshipers met across town, braving a driving rain to cele-
brate a Mass for the martyrs of that revolution. While some
might be oblivious to one of the greatest evils to befall
mankind, others could not forget. Christ's witnesses still are
With the Bolshevik anniversary thus remembered, there
were some of us who were remembering , in a quiet, unevent-
ful way, another important anniversary — the fifth anniver-
sary of the founding of ECL, Evangelism to Communist
Lands. This was my response to my own Macedonian
call — a call that I could not for a moment ignore.
Quietly, hopefully, there were voices cheering us on.
There were two hundred and more voices from the city of
Nahadka, in easternmost Siberia, calling out in gratitude to
us. There were encouraging signs that they would be the first
contingent to leave the Soviet Union as a direct result of their
protests to the incessant and merciless persecution for their
faith. Forced to worship in secret because they could not
bring themselves to endure atheists having the final say in
their religious activities, these Pentecostalists, along with
300,000 and more others of their numbers, wanted out,
willing to go anywhere so long as they could worship their
Lord in freedom.
ECL had testified before Congress in their behalf — and
in behalf of Rev. Georgi Vins, a Baptist preacher from the
Ukraine, who likewise could not bow to atheistic demands.
He was in prison for the third time — a living (although
scarcely) martyr for the faith. Partially because of ECL's
efforts, Congress passed an unprecedented bill denouncing
the Soviet Union and asking specifically for Brother Vins'
release. Pressure from the bastion of freedom was placed on a
country which makes a farce of freedom.
The people of Nahadka had their hope because ECL had
joined forces with the deeply respected Tolstoy Foundation
in New York City. A secular institution and one established
specifically to help the Suffering Church joined forces to
bring relief to a troubled people.
Cheering us on also were the voices of tens and hun-
dreds of thousands who were hearing the Gospel message
over half a dozen and more of powerful and not-so-powerful
stations in the United States and around the world. I preach
several times each month in Bulgarian to reach my suffering
fellow Christians. If they suffer, Christ suffers and I also
suffer. We all must share in that suffering, for inseparably, if
we are bound to Christ, then we are part of the same glorious
body. ''Why/' someday our Lord will ask of the Com-
munists, "did you kick against the pricks?" Only then, it
will not be in mercy, as when He asked the question of the
apostle Paul, but in judgment. The question is a two-edged
ECL early learned that broadcasting is an effective
means of answering the Macedonian call. When the Com-
munists began jamming our broadcasts, we rejoiced. It was a
sinister voice of communism telling us we were hitting a raw
nerve. We simply moved on to more powerful stations.
Today, with our fifth anniversary just passed, we broad-
cast in three languages, including Russian and Bulgarian,
over four international stations to a large number of the
Communist nations. Who can tell how many have been
brought into the Kingdom by such preaching? Who can tell
how much the Suffering Church has grown in numbers and in
spiritual strength by such obedience to the command to
preach the Gospel to everyone in season and out of season?
Even out of season, as the closed doors of the Communist
countries suggest, there is a harvest to be had. Much, then, of
the money faithful Christians send to ECL — my spiritual
"alter ego" — goes toward getting the gospel out where the
Church suffers. Not one dime of it is ill-spent.
This mission, its faithful and dedicated workers so dear
to my heart, also makes bold sallies against the Communist
countries, making telling penetrations through a vast net-
work of people who, at great personal risk, bring the Bible
into lands where it is all but forbidden. Through a plan called
"Operation Jericho" we printed 200,000 Bibles and New
Testaments. Considering the population of these countries,
this does not sound like many. But remembering their cost,
remembering the difficulty involved in getting them through
the borders, and most of all the virtual unavailability of
Bibles in those countries, then such a ministry is one of major
Naturally, only a few can "run" the Word of God
through such gauntlets. Our offices and contact points are not
only in the United States, but also in Great Britain, Sweden,
Switzerland, South Africa, India, Taiwan, Australia,
France, and Canada; they serve as vital outposts for such acts
of daring. Some of God's choicest saints help us.
But from behind desks in Kalamazoo, Michigan, or
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, there are hundreds upon hundreds
of other less daring but effective saints who help us take
God's Word directly behind the Iron Curtain. They do it
through our extensive direct mailing ministry — New Testa-
ment Letter Ministry — a ministry of mailing segments of the
Word into such countries using lists we make up from tele-
phone books. Individuals involved in the New Testament
Letter Ministry send tens of thousands of complete New
Testaments into numerous Communist countries, a small
segment at a time.
ECL prints these mail-away New Testament segments,
which we call signatures, in several languages. The home
missionary who shares in this aspect of ECL's ministry
blankets his or her work in prayers, both for ECL and for the
intended recipient. Before an individual is finished with the
program, each person receives the entire New Testament, an
installment at a time. The person who sends the New Testa-
ment segment does so at the low cost of an appropriate
airmail stamp per segment, a day at a time. This way tens of
thousands of people who are part of the Suffering Church are
boosted in their spirits, strengthened in the Word, and truly
made to feel they are part of the body of Christ. Those who
send learn more than ever before about Paul's admonition:
"Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who re-
joice." The body of Christ, thus, is not divided, but one in
And how many hundreds behind the Iron Curtain, who
didn't know the Suffering Servant, have come to be willing to
suffer with Him and for Him because of that prayerful service
in Kalamazoo and in Saskatoon. Only eternity will reveal its
Books and magazines and other publications help to tell
the story. And ECL sends " missionaries" with films of my
story and the story of the Suffering Church to hundreds of
churches each year. This book, in its earlier forms, has
touched the lives of literally millions of people, with more
than a half-million copies distributed around the world. My
wish in prison was that I might survive to tell the world my
story and the story of the Suffering Church. Thanks be to
God, my prayers have been answered a million times and
more. Until the Lord comes or until the Hell of the Com-
munist world changes, that story will be told by various
means, many million times more. What more wonderful
answer to prayer could an old man ever ask for!
I am on the road for more weeks each year than I am
home, speaking in large churches and small, preparing radio
messages, writing books and editorials — doing anything
and everything to answer the Macedonian call: "Come and
Another Cry Is Heard
Only two months before the world marked the sixtieth
anniversary of the advent of nationally imposed com-
munism, an evangelist respected around the world was in-
vited by Hungarian church leaders to hold one of his crusades
in Hungary. Virtually no restrictions were placed on him,
and hundreds went forward to profess their faith in Christ,
This is one of the most rigid of Communist countries.
Of course, one rejoices to know that even one person
comes to receive Jesus, let alone the hundreds and even
thousands. I have the profoundest respect for this man of God
and for how he has been used over the years for His purposes.
But I was deeply saddened, too. The Los Angeles
Times, printing two contradictory stories in the same edition
on September 8, 1977, illustrates my point. One story was
datelined Budapest, and the other Moscow.
The story from Budapest quoted the evangelist as seeing
communism and religion being able to coexist. ''People can
come to church and worship God," the man of God said.
' 'There was no precondition and no restriction on any of my
preaching at any time. I preached the same messages that I
have preached all over the world in the same way." It
undoubtedly was so.
But the Moscow story in the same paper was about the
KGB and three hundred police battling for six hours to break
up a demonstration of Soviet Baptists protesting the closing
of their meeting house in Bryansk, 220 miles southwest of
Moscow. A religious rights group, monitoring just how the
Soviet Union was living up to the Helsinki Agreement, said
this coincided with a swoop on other Baptist communities in
Rostov and the Ukrainian town of Garlovka.
When the Baptists in Bryansk refused to leave their
house of worship, they spent two days inside without food
and water. The police moved in with truncheons and fire-
hoses after an attempt to drive them out with smoke failed.
Two pastors were severely beaten, and about 1 50 others were
The voice of the Suffering Church now is one that is
crying out in anguish — and even in disgust. It is the voice of
those who suffer not alone from Communist oppressors, but
from the naivete of well-meaning brothers and sisters in the
"No! No! Don't you believe it," the Suffering Church
cries out. "Only Satan could lead you into believing a bigger
To any who have had dealings with the Communists, it
is, of course, no secret that only Satan can lie more convinc-
ingly than the Communist. But it takes no expert in spiritual
things to recognize that the Great Deceiver is at work to lull
Christians in the free world into believing a new era is
coming in the Communist attitude toward the church and
toward the preaching of the Gospel.
The last great strategy of the Communists to destroy the
church is to work through the leaders of the officially regis-
tered or sanctioned churches. Many of these men are well-
selected mouthpieces of the Communist party in every coun-
try behind the Iron and Bamboo curtains.
Some of these very pastors hold their favored positions
only by the good graces of the governments that, it they can't
fully abuse them, use them. They often prove to be more
faithful as propagandists for communism than even members
of the Communist party are able to be, though this may, in
some cases, be done in ignorance.
The purpose of the Communist party is fulfilled in these
mouthpieces when they make contact with the free world and
present the idea that there is real religious and civil liberty in
There is a special niche in the Communist scheme of
things for such spokesmen. They are allowed to invite
churchmen and others to their showplace churches in Mos-
cow and Leningrad and Warsaw and Belgrade and a few
other selected big cities to show off this freedom. Americans
and Canadians and other free- world people come back,
speaking of the churches that are filled to overflowing, with a
sound Gospel being preached.
No one ever is told of the hundreds, even tens of
thousands, of churches that have been closed, forcing a
relative handful of people into the few churches remaining
open. Certainly this is going to look as if freedom abounds.
"Don't believe it!" the Suffering Church cries out.
Don't believe it no matter how enthusiastic the words, how
sincere the Christian. The lie is compounded when these
clerical servants of the Communist party are allowed to come
out of their countries to spread the word that things are
changing in the Communist world, that freedom exists, that
religion and communism can coexist.
Let me say without equivocation that Christianity — true
Bible-centered, evangelical Christianity — can never coexist
with communism. Ask — were it even possible — the many
hundreds who are in prison for trying to exercise their faith.
Ask the tens of thousands who fear for their families and their
jobs daily because of their faith. Ask the author of Gulag
Archipelago what he thinks. Ask the imprisoned members of
teams which were, ironically, monitoring how the Soviet
Union abides by the Helsinki Agreement. Ask the Rev.
Georgi Vins what one can be thrown into prison for. Ask his
aging mother why she was in prison. Ask the 300,000 Pen-
tecostals who indicate they want out of Russia why it is they
want to leave the only home , the only loved ones they ' ve ever
Ask. Then pray. Then come . Join us in this mighty work
God has raised up in answer to the Macedonian call and to the
cry from the Suffering Church.
The author invites correspondence regarding the present
situation in Communist lands. Gifts for printing Bibles and
assisting suffering Christians in Communist countries may
be sent to —
Rev. Haralan Popov
Evangelism to Communist
Lands - USA
Glendale, CA 91209
ECL - Canada
ECL - Australia
Moe, Victoria 3825
ECL - England
Southampton S09 7EL
ECL - South Africa
Monument Park, 0105
PLEASE CHECK CORRECT BOX BELOW:
□ Please inform me regularly about Christian news
events in Communist lands. Send me the Door of
Hope magazine free of charge for six months.
□ I am willing to share this book, enclosed find $
for the payment of copies.
□ Please print below:
Postal /Zip code_
mn raos mm
"A man of God disappeared into Com-
munist prisons — thirteen years later a
'spiritual giant' came out"
The Author after 13
years in Communist
The Author as he is
MORE THAN 500,000 COPIES IN PRINT!
The name Haralan Popov is deeply revered behind
the Iron Curtain today. He has become a symbol of
Christian courage to many thousands whose faith is
under attack in the Communist world.
He is a spiritual leader of the people of Bulgaria
— a land called "Little Russia," where he pastored
the largest protestant church in the nation and was
his country's foremost evangelist. His very prom-
inence as a spiritual leader of the people brought
him especially severe suffering during 13 years
In prisons, he continued his work for God despite
the price of suffering he had to pay. After 13 years of
prison, he became a leader of the Secret Church
which came into existence when the official church
fell under Communist control.
Later, at the urging of the Persecuted Church, he
made his way to the Free World to awaken free
Christians to its existence and need for Bibles. He
has been called a "Voice of the Suffering Church"
and is now directing the smuggling of tens of thou-
sands of Bibles to peoples in Communist lands.
ISBN 0-310-31262-0' No. 18070p